Startups in a Quest to Move Us towards Smart Cities.
Last week, I had the privilege to attend the first Urban Mobility Summit in Nairobi. This event organized collaboratively by the University of Nairobi’s C4D Lab, Uber and other partners brought into the limelight the work startups are doing in transforming Nairobi city. I must say that the conversation was about big data and its role in policy marking especially urban planning as a critical component of smart cities. Most of the presentations were around mobile based applications that help people to move within the city and in the process a lot of data is collected that could be critical for innovations around efficient urban mobility.
All the startups that pitched that day were in the mobility sector. They ranged from tax to parcel movement and even extended to bulk goods movement within urban areas as well as across the country. The most interesting thing about their value proposition ranged from the technology to the thinking. AnNisa for instance is a female only tax app. The drivers as well as the clients are only females with a thinking purely based around female safety.
Another interesting tax app is one called Nopia. It could be new to most of us but its story is a juicy one. I realized this is not an everyday tax business like the rest in that its cars are all electric. There is a whole ripple effect when we get to think of the possibility of taking our rides electric. The advantage such a move has especially in cutting down on our carbon emission footprints is a massive one. It is worth noting that there has been a rapid increase in respiratory diseases at The Kenyatta National Hospital mostly linked to the poor quality of air on our roads. Emissions by these gasoline powered automobiles are to blame.
Closely related to this electric technology driven innovation is another innovation duped Flux boda. A short chat I had with Mikael Gange, the CSO and Founder of Opibus that came up with the innovation around electric motorcycles was very encouraging. The motorbike on display that day didn’t have a chain and as he told me, had a lithium based battery which has a lifespan of fifteen years. At the end such technologies end up disrupting the way we do things and life is never the same any more.
Perhaps if they will begin production of their batteries here and scale them up to bigger sizes for energy storage, companies such as Kenya Power and KenGen will have a way to work around the production and distribution of electricity as they can safely juggle between base and peak demands load variances. Again they can incorporate, effectively the use of solar energy in our grids now that we are a solar rich country and there is a possibility of us cracking on the effective energy storage from such sources.
To help champion such kind of forward thinking and innovation is the open data concept. We are at a stage where data sharing is becoming an everyday sauce. All our decisions are expected to be driven by data especially in helping us have predictive models on movement of people, time lapse inconveniences brought about by jams, other bad traffic mannerisms and the total carbon emissions bought about by such. This will also point to amounts of oil expected to be consumed by motorists and their effect on the environment as well as the economy.
Part of this will be made possible by such innovations as those being spearheaded by Uber through their #UberMovement whereby they want to start sharing real time data remotely. Through this, drivers can be able to see which routes are easier to use, at what time of the day and how much time they will be expected to save. This definitely means increased efficiency to the motorists in saving on fuel and to the customers who will reach their destinations early enough and be far more productive.
Other startups also worked around vanpooling. One such app is called Ubabi. The App intends to reduce the number of cars on our roads by ensuring that people who are travelling towards the same direction can move in one car and hence save on cost as well as carbon emissions on our roads due to the reduced individual cars on our roads.
And talking of this we still need a lot of data driven approach by analyzing the data collected daily by the CCTV on our roads to try and understand movement of people into and within the city. From here we can begin to predictive modelling of our transport system towards ensuring that we find the best fit solutions for making Nairobi a smart city.
A smart city is all about lowered cost of living, quality increase in the lives of the residents, efficient service delivery and easy movement. And these can be achieved through open source platforms where data is at the disposal of policymakers and academia so that we can have innovative solutions to our unique problems as a city.
Going forward, let’s make our roads better and smart instead of building more roads. Have pedestrian paths, cycling lanes and make sure that there is planned travelling and predicted patterns that guide in the movement of people and goods at all times. It will be a matter of time before we can finally become a smart city.
We will discuss housing and other social amenities as part of the smart cities components on this platform in future editions.
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