Skip to content
Microsoft Industry Blogs

Consider this – over 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. At the same time, one in every four or five residents will be senior citizens with distinct accessibility needs.

Linda Chandler headshotInfluencing the future of cities has been a key driver of mine for a number of years. By way of introduction, I am Linda Chandler, a Microsoft Digital Advisor based in Singapore. Microsoft Digital Advisory Services is a team within Microsoft Services. Digital Advisors bring their expertise, as well as Microsoft’s resources, experience and innovation, to empower organizations to reach their digital aspirations. We partner to drive a program of change to build our customers’ digital business, and our website can be found here.

My work on smart cities is a perfect outlet for my passion of making a difference in society with technology. Citizens do not care about the underlying technology running their city. Instead, they focus on what they have prioritized for centuries: quality of family life, education, jobs and societal legacy. I’d like to share two ideas with you – the broad concept of the Anywhere Working City, and a specific project addressing accessibility and inclusion – Cities Unlocked.

The Anywhere Working City

People sitting at a table in a big roomThe concept of an Anywhere Working City is a highly livable, polycentric city, driven by societal expectation of a different way of working and living, enabled by new paradigms of buildings, technology and transport. In our original paper, Philip Ross and I covered four concepts:

  • Beyond the Smart City: It is astonishing to think how the landscape of urban mobility has evolved in a very short period, with the introduction of ride-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft, and Grab to provide a ‘transport architecture’, which will be more flexible over time than today’s “transport infrastructure.” Imagine how our cityscapes will evolve when infrastructure such as car parks are no longer necessary in the age of autonomous driving.
  • The Third Space: Many of us understand the polarities of working in the office and working from home. The concept of co-working or casually meeting a colleague or a taking a conference call in coffee shops – sometimes known as “the third space” – will eventually produce powerful societal change.
  • 100 Mile City: If we expand the concept of transport connections, which have traditionally stretched into the hinterland, to a polycentric city, and replace our physical transport connectivity with digital connectivity, how much further can the economic benefits spread?
  • Evolution vs Revolution: It’s important to explore the opportunities and challenges presented by green field cities versus established cities – there are pros and cons to both.

Technology could be the long-term driver of societal change that determines our perceptions of the future of work.

Cities Unlocked

“Cities Unlocked” is a collaborative program incubated by Microsoft Research, the result of a unique partnership between Microsoft, the UK charity Guide Dogs and a number of other organizations. A prototype of an audio-rich experience will enhance the mobility, confidence, and independence of people with sight loss. Using 3D audio, ambient intelligence in the cloud, and a simple app on a smartphone, a person gets an extraordinary sense of what is surrounding them, which stimulates a magical experience of exploration and discovery. The pilot for Cities Unlocked was in the UK.

Linda Chandler presenting at Smart City Expo 2016 Showcasing “Cities Unlocked”
Linda Chandler presenting at Smart City Expo 2016 showcasing “Cities Unlocked”

The collaboration with Guide Dogs was undertaken using a co-creation design methodology; building on the principles of user-centered design we brought together people with sight loss, mobility experts from Guide Dogs and designers and technologists from Microsoft to ensure that these different perspectives are reflected in the research and analysis we conduct from our fieldwork. The process through which orientation and mobility is taught to a visually impaired person has not changed in nearly 100 years. However, the advent of digital technologies, in particular using 3D audio to inform a person where they are and what’s around them, has the potential to enable people to discover and explore places on their own terms rather than be restricted to known spaces. The principles of inclusive design ensure that Cities Unlocked is widely applicable.

If you are just starting to learn about smart cities, welcome to the community! Check out these resources to learn more:

  • Cities Unlocked
  • CityNext