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The contribution of Industry 4.0 to the Sharing Cities projectThe approach and projects of the Municipality of Milan
Industry 4.0 is a term used so often that its meaning seems clear to everyone. In recent years, we, as council departments, have never amused ourselves looking for precise definitions for Smart City or Sharing Economy but instead we’ve wondered about and committed ourselves to understanding how new trends, or new urban visions, could contribute to innovation, inclusion and employment aims without forgetting the climate objectives. In these early months of the new mandate, we have, therefore, begun to understand what can be done for Industry 4.0 starting from existing knowledge. We’ve realised that it is clearly the description of a technological revolution in all industrial sectors – ICT, big data, human sciences, artificial intelligence, robotics, design and smart technologies. But is it just this?
We don’t think so; we can be more ambitious and to be so, we need to understand how these technologies can be used additionally to make our economic processes more intelligent, inclusive and resilient. Industry 4.0 is the core of a new industrial strategy, a wider economic strategy that targets competitivity to deal with the deep social, economic and environmental crisis in European society. A systemic, integrated approach that favours and improves the ‘liveability’ of public space and creates new employment opportunities for the new digital natives afflicted by excessive unemployment. The digital revolution and its combination with the relative progress in robotics and life sciences clearly have a technological dimension but rather than stopping before the possible negative implications, we should consider how this progress can be exploited and scaled in wider social-technological innovation to satisfy the urgent global challenges.
Let’s take the example of the energy transition agreed in Paris which came into force at the beginning of October due to the ratification of European countries. The decarbonisation of our economies is one of the greatest challenges to face in decades-long processes. Only a thorough, fast and probably explosive innovation will enable us to keep the increase in the average global temperature below 2°C, thus permitting the European economy to remain competitive. We could create new opportunities to face the challenges of our society such as climate change, the scarcity of resources and the dangers for social cohesion threatened by changes occurring in the most advanced economies by valorising the technological innovation 4.0. We have the potential to provide our areas with an economic, social and environmental competitive advantage favouring resilience and inclusion. Continual innovation is taking place throughout the value chain of economic production, even in the sectors of the economy that are most mature and resistant to change, like building.
We’re also seeing great change in the construction sector through the Sharing Cities project, in progress in the Porta Romana/Vettabbia area. There is enormous potential offered by industrialisation in the production of prefabricated elements for urban redevelopment. In this process, the digital revolution plays an essential role, if paired with other innovations – robotics, 3D scanning and simulations now enable existing building to be measured precisely, allowing not only personalisation of the prefabricated elements but also the improvement of the classic renovation. This revolution can lead to a dramatic reduction in costs for a thorough energy retrofit and satisfy the long-term climate objectives. We’re realising how industry 4.0 can be an important contribution to achieving the energy redevelopment of our city.
Another important lesson we’re learning from being a European Lighthouse city relates to the value chain of the vehicle and its electrification process. The inexorable transition to electric vehicles, if powered with energy produced by renewable sources, can contribute to reducing CO2 emissions and atmospheric and noise pollution. We should remember that the transport sector contributes one-third of carbon dioxide emission in the European community and is one of the main causes of damage to health from pollution. In the action that we’ll take on electric mobility, with the Greater London Authority and the Municipality of Lisboa, we want to make our contribution to the ongoing transition. Just for Milan alone, the following are planned: the installation of 70 new electric charging columns, 150 new electric bicycles (bike-sharing), the first electric apartment block car-sharing service, promotion of the logistics of the last electric mile and a twin platform of E015 for the integrated management of the mobility data received. A transition of the vehicle sector making it clear how, in this sector, great opportunities are being created in sectors outside the car world but which can easily integrate, such as the electrical distribution network operators, the ICT sector for the intelligent management of consumption, and contracts and the electronic sector in general for better management of the connected services.
We believe that we have also fielded avant-garde partners at European level (A2A Smart City, Unareti, NHP, Kyunsis, lots of small and medium companies and leading players in the energy market) to achieve the important objectives preset at Community level. Therefore, it is important that the administration takes on a leading role in this moment in history to give this transformation a sense, showing how industrial innovation is a priority in the coming years of local government.
Innovation as a means to an end, that of public interest. The ultimate aim of the innovation policy is not to choose a winning technology but to be a tool to deal with the great social and global challenges.