Blue City Project: the project that wants to invent the city of tomorrow
With this initiative, Switzerland is among the world leaders in the city management model of tomorrow.
How can we save on heating and promote a sustainable environment? How to better manage waste, green spaces, public buildings? How to hunt for waste? How to avoid traffic jams at the exit of the office, which cause pollution peaks? How to make cities more functional, more economical and more pleasant for their inhabitants? The "Blue City Project" will tackle all these questions.
Switzerland is preparing for a winter of energy shortages, which it did not expect. Could digitalization help public authorities anticipate this type of crisis in the future? A project has been launched by the city of Lausanne, in consortium with academic actors, such as the EPFL, public, semi-public, private actors such as ELCA and start-ups, which should respond to these challenges. Its name is "Blue City Project", financed by Inno Suisse, the federal agency that promotes innovation in Switzerland. Within four years, a completely new model for managing cities should be in place.
The digital twin
The "Blue City Project" is based on the fascinating technology of the digital twin, that is, the double of the physical object, which lives in a computer. The digital twin is only data, algorithms, and AI, but this virtual avatar will allow the simulation of new business models. For many, this is still science fiction, but in fact, technology is constantly evolving and improving and today, digital twins are everywhere, in industry, health, architecture, transportation, communication. At EPFL, several laboratories, gathered in the Center for Intelligent Systems, are working on this technology and its various applications. We are swimming in the future with applications that could have very concrete effects on the daily life of the population.
An example: "Blue City Project" will work on energy savings and will be able to model energy networks, then show them on a virtual envelope to perform different simulations and make possible optimizations. This will give a precise view of a city's consumption, district by district, and will enable the identification of opportunities to improve its carbon footprint. The consortium will also be working on an application to control traffic lights, to make traffic flow more smoothly and thus reduce pollution. The idea is that all these sectors, public and private, work together to create a virtual city through digital twins. The Covid crisis has demonstrated that communities need to develop more effective models for managing public data. "Blue Sky Project is working on this.
The cybersecurity issue
In all this project with gigantic implications, the issue of data security is obviously major. In its 2020 report on the security of connected devices, the Federal Council points out how easy it is for cyber hackers to take control of thousands or even millions of connected devices. These attacks are motivated by greed, sabotage or espionage. The impacts range from momentary unavailability of the IT infrastructure to the disabling of critical infrastructure through sabotage. These attacks can have very heavy financial and human consequences. Indeed, during the Triton attack in 2017, the takeover of the security systems of a petrochemical industry could have caused fatal accidents. In the context of our smart city, we can imagine what would happen if a cyberattack against power plants or a patient's digital twin were to occur.
ELCA will bring its cybersecurity expertise to the project. In concrete terms, its teams will define a security concept for the digital twin. After studying the needs of the various smart city players, ELCA teams will develop a framework to control access to the digital twins and ensure the integrity and confidentiality of the data exposed. Finally, special attention will be paid to the communication between digital and physical twins. The envisaged approach is a security by design approach. This approach results in a more resilient system where security is built in rather than being added as an afterthought.