Academics and researchers drive smart city project

Increasing pressure from population growth and rapid expansion of urban areas has spurred the Algerian government into using information and communications technology (ICT) to develop a new model for cities, roping in academics and researchers, along with technology experts.

In Algiers, a smart city project which began in 2017 is now at an advanced stage, according to the Governor of Algiers Abdelkader Zoukh.

“It has taken a big step in recent weeks, moving from a planning phase to an execution phase in its project strategy,” said Zoukh, adding that Algiers was committed to being a pioneer in the area of ICT solutions.

The smart city project was launched by Zoukh in June 2017 with an invitation to interested parties. The opportunity to collaborate was issued to various stakeholders, including technology start-up firms, research and development laboratories, solution providers, vendors, universities, consulting firms and law firms.

“Their involvement and expertise in the development of smart city solutions, design and priorities for the project, technical and commercial solutions and views on the best way to associate with the district (wilaya) of Algiers are highly appreciated,” Zoukh said.

The governor’s assistant, Fatiha Slimani, who is in charge of the project, said more than 200 private and public companies, and research and development laboratories responded to the invitation for information and collaboration.

Slimani announced that the first major digital manufacturing workshop intended for start-ups and students with innovative solutions will take place shortly in the Algiers district.

At the same time, the first major ‘Fablab’, a manufacturing laboratory providing students with innovative solutions and machines and tools for the design and production of prototypes, is to open its doors to young inventors. Here they can develop the prototypes for smart cities using free high-tech digital machines and available tools.

Slimani said that the adoption of the Fablab approach was to enable start-ups to reduce the time and cost of conceptual development of the prototype and the development of the product for a possible launch on the market.

She added that “the participation of start-ups, developed by young talent, would be a high priority to offer them an opportunity to showcase their know-how and encourage them to stay in the country”.

Salim Belkadi, one of several academics and researchers who returned home from France to work on the smart city, said he was delighted to collaborate on the project. “Academics and researchers who have benefited financially from Algeria have a moral duty to contribute to its development, especially at a time of economic crisis, and, more importantly, in areas of information and communication technologies where the country is sorely in need of technical competence and expertise,” Belkadi said.

“The future of the country will depend on the important role attributed to academics, experts and talented persons in the long and difficult process of building a new democratic, prosperous and modern society.”

ICT expert Younes Grar also welcomed the project, saying the goal is to create new cities on the outskirts of Algiers to address migration, and it was a positive that this was being done with the participation of academics and researchers, who had been “for a long time been set aside”.

“Now,” said Grar, “authorities at last acknowledge the necessity to incorporate graduates from universities and higher education schools to Algiers’ smart city project.”

Carlos Moreno, one of the leading specialists on smart cities, who was present in Algiers during the Mediterranean Economic Week dedicated to the theme of ‘Cities and Territories: Levers of economic development in the Mediterranean’, said the smart city concept was born about 10 years ago with the advent of new technologies that have brought solutions to the problems generated by urban population growth.

“The concept is one that uses information and communication technologies to improve the quality of urban services,” he said.

Algerian researcher Mohamed Cheriet, based at a university in Montreal, Canada, said the development of societies and the application of the smart city approach, does not require the implementation of intelligent systems only.

Many other factors, such as the preservation and the protection of the environment, the reduction of pollution, come into play, he said.