Beyond the Smartphone: How Passive Nodes will Turn Cities into your Personal Hub

Smartphones have quickly become our personal hubs for everything from fitness management to social interactions; however their role as a conduit between us and our wearable sensors could be taken over by the cities we live in.

According to the head of consumer product development at Cambridge Consultants, Ruth Thompson, a growing demand for data about ourselves will in the future be met by large numbers of passive nodes that are built into the urban environment.

Speaking today at the London arm of Big Data Week, Thompson said: “We’re really just at the start of an explosion of use in connected devices to collect data about ourselves.”


Initially this data, which can cover anything from ambient temperature to medication tracking, will be sent to our smartphones in a manner pretty much the same as the current crop of wearable devices.

However, the predicted growth in wearable technology comes as cities are implementing sensors and other instrumentation that allow for constant, real-time monitoring, and this could result in continuous measurement being a constant presence in urban life.

How exactly these passive nodes will work is a little unclear – while they could be used to collect data for individuals, how people would then access that information remains to be seen.

But as wearables and other sensors grow in popularity, the role of the smartphone for data collection is looking a little shaky. Thompson explained how smartphones are “really not the ideal hub for many different scenarios”, giving showers and swimming as some places where phones are not suited.

Instead she believes that all of this data will be collected passively by sensors built into our environment, presumably making it a breeze to find out anything from how you are sleeping to the calories you burnt on your latest jog.


Cities are growing at a remarkable rate, with a whopping 180,000 people making the move to metropolitan areas every day, according to Edward Bryan, vice president of smarter cities solutions at IBM, who was also talking at today’s event.

He highlighted to incredible pressure that this was putting on urban infrastructures, and the need for careful management to ensure economic vitality.

“The explosion of data we’re seeing does provide the backbone for cities to become smarter,” explained Bryan.

He highlighted how at present we are in a transition period when it comes to smart cities, with certain areas embracing the technology. Bryan gave the example of the Filipino city of Davao, which uses real-time monitoring to combat crime, coordinate traffic and, in the event of an emergency, map a safe evacuation plan for residents.

This technology is available for cities to adopt, but at present Davao is one of very few places that has taken the plunge.

Other examples are similarly rare; Bryan highlighted use of a water detection system in Florida’s Miami-Dade parks and discussed the use of GPS on Chinese buses to monitor traffic and manage it with programmable traffic lights.

WHO: Air pollution is getting worse and risking the health of millions

Air pollution across the world is getting worse, is missing targets for safe levels and is putting the lives and health of millions at risk – figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show.

A reliance on fossil fuels, the use of private cars and buildings which use energy inefficiently can all be blamed for the deterioration of outdoor air quality.

In announcing new figures on the state of air quality in cities, WHO has said half of the urban population monitored for air pollution are exposed to levels 2.5 times higher than recommended.

It follows the announcement that in 2012 3.7m people under the age of 60 died due to air pollution, and combined indoor and outdoor air pollution is one of the biggest threats to public health that exists.

Dr Carlos Dora from the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health warned that cities need to improve the levels of pollution being generated.

“We cannot buy clean air in a bottle, but cities can adopt measures that will clean the air and save the lives of their people,” he said.

Recent figures revealed by WHO show that the most polluted areas of the United States include Fresno, San Bernardindo and Los Angeles, all in California.

Air pollution is monitored on two difference scales, which relate to the diameter of particles in the air.

Fine particles (known as PM2.5) are produced by all types of combustion including the use of cars, power plants, wood burning and some industrial processes.

Coarse dust particles (PM10) are created from crushing or grinding operations and dust stirred by vehicles travelling on roads.

Internationally, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bahrain have the highest mean for coarse particles. Parkistan and Afrhanistan also feature in the top three countries for fine particles, but are also joined by Qatar.

China, which has received much negative press for its high smoggy cities, does not feature in the top ten of either fine or coarse particles – however the WHO data for the country is from 2010.


Despite the overall bad news from WHO, it does say that some countries are improving the levels of air pollution in their cities.

This is being achieved by a greater use of green energy sources and also optimising mass public transport, rather than private vehicles.

Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health said there is a long way to go but it is possible to combat air pollution.

She said: “Effective policies and strategies are well understood, but they need to be implemented at sufficient scale.

“Cities such as Copenhagen and Bogotà, for example, have improved air quality by promoting ‘active transport’ and prioritizing dedicated networks of urban public transport, walking and cycling.”

The WHO database can be found here.

Featured image courtesy of Lei Han via Flickr/Creative Commons Licence