Conor Dowling 00:00:00 The technology, isn't the difficult part for most of these type of projects. It's getting the people involved and getting the right people around the table so that you can actually act when you have the technology.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:00:17 Welcome to Smart in the City - the BABLE Podcast, I am your host Tamlyn Shimizu, and really at BABLE, we aim to connect the players in the Smart City industry with high quality information and ideas through our platform and services. This podcast is really an extension of this goal and mission to drive the change for a better urban life. Before we get started, I wanted to inform all you lovely listeners about a great opportunity. BABLE has extended the deadline for the innovation market watch for 2023. So top smart city companies are invited to apply before the 30th of September and it's completely free. So just follow the link in the show notes today in our mini series about smart Dublin, we are focusing on one of the smart districts, a district in the suburbs of Dublin located on the east coast of Ireland. Dún Laoghaire. We will speak about the specific challenges and unique characteristics of this district and its journey within smart Dublin. So, um, yeah, who better to speak about this than our special guest of the day? Uh, Dr. Connor Dowling, who is the Smart Dún Laoghaire program manager, welcome onto the BABLE podcast, Connor.
Conor Dowling 00:01:36 Hi, Tamlyn, thanks for having me on excited to be here.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:01:39 Yeah. Super excited to hear all about dun leery today and, uh, yeah, thanks for also informing me on how to pronounce Dún Laoghaire, um, and <laugh> yeah. And really looking forward to, uh, it's been so interesting, you know, getting to dive into smart Dublin and see all the unique characteristics also of the smart district. So, um, yeah, super excited. Uh, and, and maybe to start us off just with a little teaser to get us warmed up, um, I will ask you a question. I actually asked Alan Murphy, this question as well, who, um, I think the podcast, uh, guests will know from a previous episode, um, about smart Dublin. Uh, and the question I want to ask is also for dun leery. Um, if Dún Laoghaire were an animal, which animal would it be?
Conor Dowling 00:02:31 What animal would it be? Um, I think I don't actually know what Alan said to this, but I, I would say we're a fox we're, we're pretty agile light on our feet and we kind of have to be to be able to take up any new opportunity to at comes. But, uh, yeah, I suppose we've, uh, teething claws when we want to, what, what, what animal did, uh, Alan say?
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:02:52 <laugh> Alan said, um, a dog for smart Dublin <laugh> so I guess it fits with the fox, you know, that's fine. Fairly. Yeah, if it's okay. Why did you say the fox?
Conor Dowling 00:03:05 I, I think there's an example in business of being kind of a, a hedgehog where you have one particular defense or strategy, and you kind of stick with that being obviously the spikes in the hedge, in the hedgehogs case or for a business, they might just have one particular offering that they stick with no matter what, uh, whereas for more agile businesses, a fox is kind of the, the contrasting strategy where you're open to new opportunities and you have to be ready to take them. And in some ways it's the, the smart districts are a little like SMEs. Like each of the districts is like a mini SME in itself, even though we all work together as part of smart Dublin, we are working towards our own individual goals and we have to like work like entrepreneurs to, to take up new opportunities, new applications, new projects, as they come. And, you know, that's one of the, I think one of the most enjoyable parts actually for me is, is scoping out those opportunities and, and when they work out, it's, it's so rewarding.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:04:08 I love that little analogy as an SME also. Um, and I think that fits perfectly with the fox. So, um, great answer. Um, on the fly also just as a heads up to our, our audience also is that we don't typically, um, give out many of these questions, uh, far in advance. Um, so everyone's just speaking on the fly and, um, coming up with great answers by the way. Um, so, uh, yeah, so what's your background Connor, like, how did you end up in, uh, Dún Laoghaire?
Conor Dowling 00:04:38 Yeah, we weren't given any questions, despite many requests. <laugh>
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:04:43 <laugh>
Conor Dowling 00:04:43 Um, no, uh, my, my background is in, um, uh, business. I, I studied business, then I supply chain management. And as part of that course, there was a lot of elements of risk being discussed. Uh, so from there I was carrying out my own research, uh, looking at urban resilience and how kind of city systems react to stress or different risks. And as part of that, I was looking at flooding in Dublin. Uh, we were analyzing how the rivers all come together in the, the leafy river basin, which is at the mouth of, of Dublin Harbor. And it meets the sea, which is traditionally the area where most flooding happens. And basically we're trying to measure how high river and, and flood levels we're reaching. Um, because traditionally that's just carried out by, by teams of people going out and, and looking with the naked eye.
Conor Dowling 00:05:34 So not exactly scientific approach and to, to sort of advance that we were looking at, IOT or internet of things, sensors, and looking to deploy them. And from there, I got involved with the smart Dublin team and we, uh, initially I, I, where there were three sensors initially I deployed about 15 and I believe were up to about a network of about 105 now. So it's, it's a really nice example of, of how IOT and working together and, uh, collaboration between research and the city could work. And from there, I was kind of sucked in and I I've, I've stayed for the last couple years since.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:06:14 Yeah. Great story. And, uh, what do you think are kind of the key challenges in Dún Laoghaire and how do your partnerships help tackle these key issues?
Conor Dowling 00:06:24 Absolutely. Yeah. I think each of the districts has their own, um, objective or team that we work under. So all of our districts work under the smart Dublin umbrella, but we in Dún Laoghaire work particularly on climate adaptation and mitigation, and really that's all got to do with climate change. And we're basically looking at how do you either improve your sustainability so that you're not impacting the environment anymore than you need to, or reducing your impact or looking at the future impacts of the climate change itself. And in, in Ireland's case, that's always gonna be flooding as an island nation with most of our cities are, are Viking based cities built on rivers, um, and river deltas. So a high, high level of flooding in, um, Dublin Waterford, co Limerick even go away as well. So it's, it's a really big issue for Ireland going forward.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:07:19 Yeah. And so I, I I've read a bit about what Dún Laoghaire is doing with, you know, flood resilience, mobility solutions, and more some of what you've just spoken about too. Um, do you have a favorite project that you want to speak about and why is it your favorite?
Conor Dowling 00:07:36 Yeah, probably what are the, the big drivers at the moment are these large EU projects, which are really, really enormous 40 odd partners in each one. And we basically help as a living lab, coastal living lab, testbed, whatever you want to call it. And we have world class engineers, uh, researchers and other city officials coming from across Europe to, to bring all of these cutting edge technologies and, and research models to bear. And one of those projects we have, we have three major ones which are pro bono score and precinct and score. The moment has really kicked off very strongly they're all in their first year, but the score project is going to be looking at, um, measuring the impact of, of flooding all along the coast. And how do we warn people about it, get people engaged so that they're active, uh, participants and citizen scientists as well.
Conor Dowling 00:08:35 Um, and then going beyond that, how do we actually do things about it that we, we're not exposing the, the community to the worst effects of, of flooding and, and storm disasters in Ireland? Um, so that at the moment it's, it's a really topical issue. And I think some of the workshops we've done, we've seen huge buy in from a lot of the stakeholders, which is probably one of the like main things we do in terms of facilitating all of this research activity is bringing all these different partnerships together. Um, and it's really exciting to see where traditionally, sometimes people are a little bit siloed in their own organization or indeed their own department. Seeing people actually like really, really engage and excited to engage on these projects is, is really cool. And it tells you, firstly, it's an important issue. Uh, but also that we're actually going about it in the right way, which I think is really rewarding.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:09:26 Cool. That sounds amazing. But, um, I'm, I'm wondering if, just to be a bit skeptical here as well. So do you think, like, are you a skeptic or optimist when it comes to future proofing our coastal towns? Like, do you think that is like, how much can we do at this point? Or do you think it's a bit too late? Like we started way too late, tricky
Conor Dowling 00:09:51 Political, um, issue. I think with climate changes, it's it is probably the biggest challenge certainly facing younger generations, but it never feels quite as immediate as say Brexit or COVID or the war in Ukraine, which are possibly shorter term major issues. But I think long term, the climate issue is the one that's gonna affect the globe, uh, most. And that's why it's a little bit hard to, you know, dedicate the right number of resources that would probably take to address these issues. What we can do is make people more aware and educate them in the first instance of, of the issues, um, which I don't think is being done as it needs to. We've certainly seen it in, in younger people have started getting it in school and things, but there's no, I think active campaign for middle-aged or older people to understand these challenges.
Conor Dowling 00:10:45 And without that understanding, it's very difficult to get by, in to get the budget, to get the manpower, to actually do the physical work on the ground, be it for a council national government or, uh, private industry either. So that's kind of where we are from a smart leery point of view. We're looking firstly at engaging citizens, getting them involved in our plans, we have a few projects already underway looking at nature based solutions, which are, um, kind of climate resilience projects looking to integrate nature to, to prevent flooding. So we're basically looking to bring a number of different projects to actually act on this already. But the first key point is making people aware of it. There's no point us going off and doing great work if people aren't aware of the issue and how we're going about, uh, challenging it. And that's the beauty of these smart districts, you can be experimental, um, and you can involve people that maybe wouldn't traditionally work together.
Conor Dowling 00:11:44 Some of those projects that we work on include smart new types of insulation, solar, PV, um, active play areas where we've pedestrianized traditional roads and looked at, uh, cycle infrastructure and segregated cycle lanes. That kind of thing that are, uh, sometimes not the smartest of, uh, projects, but they're really, really important in terms of that climate piece. And we can layer on smart elements. So if the council we've really a brilliant, active travel team in dun down county council, who we work with and we help add on layers of technology, be it, um, like counting or people counting sensors that can just tell the impact and the areas where these technologies and interventions are having the greatest impact for the county. So that's a really important piece where we are, as I said, I think as we start up and we've been doing this for a couple years now, but really we are reaching out to the wider community and different interest groups now and getting them involved. And that's probably the most important piece of work we're doing. And like, I'd usually say the, the technology, isn't the difficult part for most of these type of projects. It's getting the people involved and getting the right people around the table so that you can actually act when you have the technology.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:13:03 Yeah, I totally agree with that. I think that's a big part of what we've seen in our work as well is the gathering of people and getting people to have a common agenda and common steps forward is really super crucial to the success of, um, any project and actually tackling the major problem of climate, um, change that's happening. So, um, when you work under like this kind of collaborative research model, right? Um, it, can you explain a bit about how that works?
Conor Dowling 00:13:31 Absolutely. So the of research model is a pretty unique approach to developing these smart city, um, programs. And basically it's a 50 50 funded model between research and academics on one side and the local authorities or local government on the other side. So in, in Trinity college, Dublin, where I'm an employee, uh, we have this connect center, which is, is where it has, but connect works across most of the universities in Ireland. So we have the leading, uh, experts on network and connectivity, uh, technology. So we bring that side of the house then with the local authority where we work with, um, well, it's a multi-department, uh, approach, but we're housed with the it department. And we work a lot with the parks, roads, municipal services, that kind of thing, to, to deploy these technologies and test them more and more as well. We're working with the, the climate action sort of experts in the, the climate officer, Anthony MCARA is a great leader in the space and we're bringing new technologies to his projects to enhance them as well.
Conor Dowling 00:14:44 Uh, beyond that, then those are the, the funding bodies and the main partners. Then we've partners in business for various different types of projects. Um, so they might be telcos working on the actual connectivity and the network piece, or you might have sensor providers, different, um, applications from, um, accessibility, uh, access earth are, uh, uh, NGO who work on basically it's the trip advisor for accessibility. So if you were going to a, a football match or a shopping center, you could see where the, the services are and we'd work with them on lots of different types of projects from using our areas, a test bed for their technology, getting people aware and involved of these kind of startup, uh, companies, and then hopefully long term building relationships. So we have repeat projects with them, which in that case, it's worked really well with access earth, but we have a whole string of other larger companies as well.
Conor Dowling 00:15:44 So we're looking in Dún Laoghaire that we have, um, MasterCard, Microsoft Vodafone Cellex these massive international companies are all headquartered in the near got down. And so we have a really good network of, of large companies who we can lean on for support their expertise, financial support for projects. And it's, it's, it's fantastic to see these large companies. So you wouldn't think would, would be involved in, in, in research programs, looking at how they can enhance their local area, their local city. And that's, that's kind of one of the big things that we've got out of this is, is working with these larger companies to help the city, to help smaller companies and to help the, uh, the citizens as well. So that's, that was sort of a surprise, I suppose you expect that, uh, when you're starting out, which has been great to see.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:16:36 Yeah. And you are just starting out, right. So you're starting really this year in 2022. So, um, I guess my question would be also, how can you determine, um, so far if the program is, is successful or how can you access so far the impact?
Conor Dowling 00:16:53 Yeah, I, I think, uh, to be fair, we've had a smart city research program in place for, since about November, 2019. So we're about three years really in, but we are actually officially launched the district in, uh, March of this year. So even though outwardly we're only launching that particular element, the smart unle district, we have actively been developing these projects. And one of the reasons we, we came up with that new district was we had all these projects coming in that were all based around unle. All of this research activity was happening. And so we kind of brought that together under one, one new brand that people could understand and engage with rather than it was a little bit, I suppose, confusing for a citizen. Who's not familiar with this space to think, okay, is that connect? Is it a business? Is it the council?
Conor Dowling 00:17:48 Who do I approach? Who do I go to? So now we have this kind of one point of contact in the Smart Dún Laoghaire, um, program. And we have, by the end of the year, we will have gone from, uh, just myself to five staff, uh, by the end of the year. So that's, that's kind of shows the level of projects in the magic growth we have, and that's the immediate staff. We also have, you know, cancel staff researchers who are involved tangentially. Um, so I think between, and then obviously we've, we've won significant funding, um, in the form of about, uh, three quarters of a million. So those factors are what our partners value. And now we're looking at the impact for the, the citizen as well. That engagement piece that I keep going back to that's where, you know, you can have the amount of the biggest team, you can have the biggest budget, but unless you're delivering for the citizen, I, I don't think there's much point in it. So that's what we're really focused on moment.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:18:48 Yeah. I think that's really important. Um, note to take away from this is the importance on this citizen. Um, so thank you for highlighting that as well, Connor. Um, and, uh, with that, um, I would like to give you one minute, if you would like it, you don't have to take it. Um, but one minute, if you, if you want to have the floor, I don't know if there's something a, a pressing issue or something you're quite passionate about that you really would like the listeners to know either about, you know, the topic in general or about Dún Laoghaire or whatever you see fit.
Conor Dowling 00:19:22 Yeah, absolutely. Well, what I think I, I would be best place to talk about is IOT and the internet of things. And I, I would guess that most of your listeners would be quite familiar with that as a technology. Um, yeah, but I think what we've seen through the program is how that's now being applied and scaled. You know, we've heard this promise of IOT in having, you know, people throw out millions and billions of devices connected. Um, and really, it always seemed like marketing bluster to me, uh, over the last few years. But I think now, despite you know, that there are some supply chain issues around the world at the moment, but the pricing and the supply is there now for these, um, modules and modems to make IOT affordable and scalable for the likes of a Dublin or a local authority in Ireland, um, that we haven't seen before.
Conor Dowling 00:20:17 So over the last couple of years, we've been working a lot with this technology because the potential was always there, but it was always difficult to see how we were actually going to get there. And we would have, we would call them mag pie projects. They, they look and sound really good, but they're probably not going to scale at, at a citywide level. And we might deploy, you know, a handful of sensors to address a particular, uh, issue and, and, you know, you'd get great press coverage, um, to be honest, that that's almost where it ends. Um, whereas now we're seeing, um, in the, in the last couple months, just in may there, we launched, uh, an accessibility IOT project where we were deploying, uh, parking sensors on every single, um, accessible parking bay in the entire town of Dún Laoghaire, that's something that's never been done really in Ireland before.
Conor Dowling 00:21:09 And there's already an appetite within the council to expand on that trial. Uh, so that's a one year trial, but with a view to expanding it already. And so when you have a whole town kitted out with these sensors, the insight you get is absolutely incredible. And, you know, that was always the vision for IOT. The more, the more sensors, the more data, the better informed and the better your decision making becomes. Um, but it wasn't being realized. I don't think. And so what we've seen here is firstly, you're getting the amount of engagement is absolutely incredible within the local authorities. People are involved, the researchers ass, obviously a huge uptick for the of interest when you can do trials and, and do experiments with that level of, of, of size of trial and the people involved. We also had a real engagement from the end user.
Conor Dowling 00:22:01 We, we specifically chose, um, the accessibility issue because of our partnership and our history of working with the likes of access earth. And, you know, as, as you work with these guys, you realize the amount of challenges out there, and it's, it's such an important issue that doesn't really get enough air time. Um, and, and so for this particular project, we really wanted to do something about that. Um, so this will have people with accessibility, uh, needs in their cars for less time. They can go directly to, to the, the spot that's closest to where they want to go, which is sometimes traditionally an issue. Uh, they'll also be made much more aware of where parking is in the town. They may not have been aware that there was parking on a parallel road, also close to their, the, to where they're trying to go, that kind of thing.
Conor Dowling 00:22:54 And over time, over the course of the, the trial, we'll be able to see where are the popular spaces that are, if they're being used all day, every day, maybe we need more spaces in that area and we can deploy our resources more effectively as working with the council. Um, and obviously then in the, the sort of longer term, there are applications for this sort of technology on every parking space. It doesn't necessarily need to be an accessible parking space, or when you're talking about EV uh, charging or electric vehicle charging long term is an issue that I don't think any city in Europe has, has completely, um, tackled yet. That, that that's an option now with IOT, that it wasn't there before. So all in all, I think, you know, without getting into the nitty gritty of how IOT works or how this particular sensor type works, that's really the, the takeaway of how it can actually address an issue at a scale across a whole town.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:23:54 I love that, uh, technology for inclusion is, yeah, you're speaking my language now. Um, well you have in the entire time, but <laugh>, um, yeah, I love that. So, yeah, thanks so much. And with that, I will go into our last segment, um, which is called, uh, one that we like to do, and it's called hot take of the day: We want to hear an opinion of yours that may be slightly controversial or debated. Um, do you have something that you, uh, have in mind?
Conor Dowling 00:24:37 Yeah. Great. I, I think we work on, on climate adaptation, as I said, and I think sometimes there's an attitude that everybody's already up to speed that everybody's bought in this idea of, of climate change, which, which absolutely is not our experience certainly on the ground. Um, there's a huge need for an education piece, but on the flip side, if you share all the data, if you share every scheme, every risk people are either terrified or they just, you know, have a tendency to, to stick their head in the ground and it can be quite, quite scary. Um, so I think that that piece of educating and trying to in a, in a way that has an element of understanding in it as well is not really the approach we've seen to date, it's kind of all or nothing. And mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you know, that that's a little bit, um, controversial because there's on one side, you think you should just tell the public and, and tell everybody exactly what's going on and let people make their own minds up.
Conor Dowling 00:25:42 Um, but if you're not sensitive to maybe people living on the coast and, and their, you know, all of their, their, their, their property is, is at risk, maybe how scary and terrifying that could be for people. Um, I don't think it would be helpful necessarily just to be shouting that, you know, the world is ending basically. Um, I think the way in which we're doing it needs to be a little bit more educational and, and the approach needs to be aware of that with that element, as I said, of understanding, uh, baked in, and that's something that we are looking at more and more of how to do that in a way that you get the, the emergency element across without just scaring people. And then, you know, inevitably they'll just not engage in the, in the way you had hoped anyway. So that's a really important issue. And I think sometimes our approaches is as researchers or government hasn't necessarily been the way that it could be most effective.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:26:40 Yeah. I love that answer because it has a such important piece of communication in it, which is also my specialty. Um, so I always emphasize this a lot, um, with everything that I do is how we communicate and having this emotional understanding of where people are coming from so that we communicate in, in a language that also speaks to them. Um, so I, I love that as your hot take of the day. Um, and I can agree with that. Although I also understand the point of, um, wanting to put out all the information that everyone can see and, um, it, it's not an issue of transparency, right? You want to be transparent, but it's the way you communicate the data. Um, so yeah, I, I totally get that. Absolutely. So last question, last question that I can bother you with, uh, you with today, and then I'll let you go on, on your, uh, lovely Monday. Um, so the question is, uh, we ask it to every guest, um, and it is to you, what is a smart city?
Conor Dowling 00:27:40 Yeah, I think, you know, I've heard so many answers to this question over the years and, and you could, you could go on, we could have done the whole podcast just on this question. Um, but really what the smart city has to be. It, it does come back to technology cause that's inherent in, in what we talk about when we're, we're talking about smart, but more and more it's we have to get away from it's all about advancing our technology. It's it's how do we use technology as a service for people either to enhance existing services or create new services that we didn't know we needed or, or could use. Um, and that's, that's the key point is getting people involved, getting them aware of technology so they can use it and going beyond just testing and introducing technology as either a government or a researcher, um, to engaging the, the wider community so that everybody's involved in this and really take this citizen science piece to the next level. I think that's, that's where smart cities are going is, is to have, you know, the whole community involved in, in the development, be it, um, through consultation or actual co-production or that citizen science element that is so powerful. And I think that's where smart cities should go and need to go to actually be successful long term.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:29:03 Yeah, I agree. Um, very nicely put as well. Um, so with that, I, I will just say, uh, a very warm, thank you, um, for joining me today, Carter. Um, yeah, it's super interesting. All the work that you're doing and it's definitely sparked a ton of curiosity in me and I'm sure it will do the same for the listeners, so yeah. Thank you so much.
Conor Dowling 00:29:26 Well, thank you. And, uh, I love everything over at BABLE and all the, the pieces that we, we regularly, uh, tune into the, so thank you.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:29:35 Yeah. Yeah. Thank you so much. I'm glad that you tune in and, and thanks for that reminder as well. So also to all of our listeners, don't forget, you can always create a free account on bable-smartcities.eu, and you can find out about smart city projects, solutions, implementations, more about smart Dublin, as well as they're one of our biggest contributors. Thank you all for listening. I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.