We live in a time where once-future challenges such as population growth, global warming, and the shortage of resources are fast becoming present ones, giving rise to various digital approaches and ideas on how to solve them.
Smart cities, and the challenge of involving the citizen
The concept of smart cities strives to address these challenges in order to achieve sustainable development and a high quality of life. Smart cities tend not only to advocate for a greener world, but also for a safer, better organized, and more efficient one. Implementing this concept – especially in populous regions – is not easy. Complicated infrastructure and the question of how it will be powered, security requirements, privacy concerns, and citizen engagement are just a few of the barriers. Citizen engagement in particular is, next to technological infrastructure, the lifeblood of smart cities. Without it, smart cities cannot be smart. Therefore, it’s essential to not only weigh investments in new and innovative technology but also to consider a certain user experience and how to proactively embed the population within the concept.
In industry, the feasibility and usability of a concept or product are tested through a prototype. Considering the complexity of the smart city concept, wouldn’t using a prototype be the logical step before implementing it? Especially if such prototypes already exist! For instance, university campuses are ideal data labs in which to test smart city environments. This is mainly due to three aspects many campuses feature:
- Universities have a fixed and clearly defined geographical area, thereby providing ideal surroundings for mastering data. Since they have all the essential infrastructure a city does (transportation, roads, housing, and scientific laboratories), campuses make not only experimenting but also testing the concept within a smaller frame and on a small sample of the population possible.
- Behind universities lies a great potential for a smart citizen – A campus community is not only homogenous; it consists of young, well-educated people who have an affinity for technology and are deeply involved in social change. Therefore, they are perfectly suited for taking on the role of the smart citizen, both participating in and improving the concept.
- A university’s strong academic structures can easily become a playground for an innovation-friendly environment. Furthermore, they play an important part in developing the infrastructure of the smart city prototype, since it is the university that connects science and technology. Not only is the potential of smart solutions developed by campuses immensely high, the data compiled through student engagement and its analysis form the basis for smart city learning outcomes.
From Glasgow to Dubai: Flagship projects across the world
Several universities have started to embrace their potential as a smart city environment:
The University of Glasgow, one of the oldest universities in Europe, has just launched a new lighting solution on campus within their one-billion-pound Smart Campus initiative. This initiative includes urban control nodes that enable intelligent street lighting. Furthermore, the university plans to deliver a smart campus platform where all campus data will be shown, just like the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton. The University of Texas at Austin provides all the cooling, heat, and electricity for the school’s 20,000-square-foot campus using microgrids. When it comes to energy regulation, the Arizona State University and it’s Sun Devil Stadium are also playing in the big league, with sensors that can monitor as well as regulate humidity and temperature inside. Moreover, there is an ASU mobile app, which makes parking availability around the stadium visible.
As mentioned above, a university’s administration also draws benefits from the smart university concept. Bolton College in Manchester just introduced a chatbot that not only answers student’s questions but also offers personalized learning, redeeming the workload of administration employees. 
The Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) in Dubai, as the name indicates, takes the concept of the smart university a step further, as the first certified e-university in the United Arab Emirates and a strong advocate of the “Smart Learning Concept.” “Users” of this virtual school can not only stroll around the smart campus, but also access courses, register for exams, chat with classmates and professors, and submit assignments. By having a cloud campus with over 5,000 courses, and digital tools that work with innovative micro-learning methods, HBMSU seeks to enhance students’ skills to meet today’s requirements.
This list could go on and on, with equally exciting projects in Singapore (campus-wide autonomous buses at the Nanyang Technological University) or Malaga (15 funded projects within the Smart Campus Innovation Plan of the Universidad de Malaga). They all invite us to see how smart universities are both prototypes and catalysts for smart cities – on the one hand, by providing the perfect environment for testing and improving the smart city concept, and, on the other, by serving as a living lab that brings people together and trains them to become smart citizens.
Building ourselves these inclusive digital test fields will be crucial in order to experience technology, assess its potential and flaws, and connect our data-driven society to the world we live in. This will be the best foundation possible before scaling up to city level, exploring whole new dimensions and responsibilities while benefiting from the guidance acquired in the place of learning that universities have always been.
 Catapult: Smart Campus – University of Glasgow, on: https://futurecities.catapult.org.uk/project/smart-campus-university-of-glasgow/.
 College Planning & Management, on: https://webcpm.com/Articles/2019/03/01/Smart-Campuses.aspx?Page=1.
 Maddox, Teena (2017), Tech Republic, on: https://www.techrepublic.com/article/how-arizona-state-universitys-stadium-is-improving-wi-fi-and-serving-as-a-living-lab-for-smart/.
 Kronfli, Basil: Intelligent Campuses, how universities are getting smart with technology: https://www.theguardian.com/transforming-the-student-experience/2019/mar/26/intelligent-campuses-how-universities-are-getting-smart-with-technology.
 eLearning Africa (2016): Today’s smart learning will build tomorrow’s smart society: https://ela-newsportal.com/todays-smart-learning-will-build-tomorrows-smart-society/.
 Tyagi, Ayushi (2018) : NTU to test Group Rapid Transit autonomous vehicles on Smart Campus by 2019, on: https://www.automotivelectronics.com/ntu-to-test-group-rapid-transit-autonomous-vehicles-on-smart-campus-by-2019/.
 See Fortes, Sergio et al. (2019), The Campus as a Smart City, in: Sensors vol. 19:1349.