Technology to reinvigorate Melbourne

Cities around the world emptied in response to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, and many remain that way.

Here in Melbourne our beloved city may be showing early signs of recovery, but challenges remain.

Speaking at the Faculty of Engineering and IT forum, Technology to Reinvigorate Melbourne, experts agreed that, with its 5G connectivity and Internet of Things testbed, Melbourne can take advantage of new technologies as it adapts to the post-pandemic world.

However, they also pointed out that innovations should be inclusive, and that new tools will only be adopted if they are simple and useful.

View the video of the panel discussion.

Accessible connectivity

The City of Melbourne has impressive 5G capabilities, with the potential to power a range of exciting new technologies. But last year’s lockdown highlighted this potential isn’t available to everyone.

Lockdown really heightened the digital divide, said Professor Elaine Wong, who is Associate Dean in the faculty. “Not everyone had more than one device in a family or access to broadband.

We need to scale up agile, on-demand, free, high speed WiFi and accelerate digital literacy through training and resources to upskill the community

Inclusivity also means getting users involved in co-designing technical solutions. One way of doing this is through the city’s open data platform (which adds data every day from sensors across the city). It provides an opportunity for residents to not only view the city’s data, but to also use it for their own projects.

It means the whole community can understand what’s going on, to improve buy-in, accountability and digital rights, said Professor Wong.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp encouraged participants to access the platform and consider new ways to use the data to benefit the city’s residents.

We’d love them to come up with different way to use that data, she said, noting the upcoming Giant Hackathon which will encourage users to devise new ways of using the data.

Scribed panel discussion
View full-sized scribed session figure

Make good use of all that data

Melbourne’s sensors monitor everything from congestion to public transport conditions, providing its decision-makers with a wealth of data.

The challenge, however, is to convert this data into useful information for the city’s users, who are more likely return if they can get the information they need easily.

We have sensors everywhere and they’re all connected – but we need to define the problems we want to solve, otherwise data just piles up and costs money, said Nikos Katinakis, Group Head, Networks & IT at Telstra.

By way of example, he pointed to public transport information for commuters.

We have too many applications currently, he said.

I have four just to decide which tram or train to take, which is too complicated and most people won’t do it.

If I want to interact with the city, it’s got to be simple.

New technologies also have role in making data work better for the city’s residents. For example, providing commuters real time information on traffic flow could help them avoid congestion.

It’s about becoming a living city communicating with living people, said Simon Young, General Manager, Internet of Things at Cisco.

Cisco is involved in trialling new sensing technology at the University’s traffic laboratory AIMES, to enable traffic lights and pedestrian crossings to communicate with vehicles.

It’s a precursor to autonomous vehicles, he said.

Adapting buildings to a new world

One of the biggest challenges the city faces post-COVID is striking the right balance between creating remote access for people can’t (or won’t) physically visit, whilst fostering opportunities for face-to-face experiences.

Sparks fly when people interact face-to-face, said Lord Mayor Capp.

A city needs to be that place where it can support remote activity but also where people come together – balancing those two things into the future is going to be important.

A city needs to be that place where it can support remote activity but also where people come together – balancing those two things into the future is going to be important

Adapting buildings so more groups can use them is one way of attracting people back into the city, and both corporations and government are thinking differently about their spaces.

We’ve observed increased efficiency in delivery when we put all our partners together in a single space – it’s around a 15% - 20% improvement in productivity. We are also experimenting with using our offices for pop--up start up spaces, said Mr Katinakis.

Sectors like the creative arts and social enterprises are also benefitting from new ways of using CBD buildings. In supporting entrepreneurial, artistic and social ventures in the CBD, the hope is they will grow within the city and stay here into the future.

We need to incentivise start-ups to develop and commercialise here in Melbourne, said Professor Wong.

The City is also keen to green its existing buildings where possible, as part of attracting people back.

Technology could help us transform into a greener city, said Lord Mayor Capp.

Green rooftops and vertical gardens rely on technology for maintenance and upkeep. But we have big ambitions and we’re grabbing that space where we can.


Lord Mayor Sally Capp

City of Melbourne

Sally Capp was re-elected Lord Mayor of Melbourne in October 2020 after having previously been elected in May 2018, she was the first woman to be directly elected as Lord Mayor. As Melbourne grows, she is committed to ensuring it remains a caring and thoughtful city, as well as a prosperous one. In 2019 Sally was awarded the RMIT Honorary Doctorate of Law Honoris Causa, she was also the recipient of the McKinnon Emerging Political Leader of the Year and the first women to hold the post of Agent-General for Victoria in the UK, Europe and Israel. She sits on a number of different boards including the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and the Collingwood Football Club and is a patron for many different organisations such as the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and the Royal Women’s Hospital Foundation.

Nikos Katinakis

Group Executive Networks & IT, Telstra

Relocating from Toronto, Nikos Katinakis joined Telstra on 15 October 2018 as Group Executive Networks & IT. In this critical role Nikos is responsible for ensuring Telstra delivers next generation network technologies to create the largest, smartest, safest and most reliable networks in the world. This includes rolling out new technology developments, such as those related to 5G, as well as maintaining and enhancing Telstra’s IT platforms. Nikos has also held multiple board and industry positions, including at ATIS, CATA and the University of Toronto, as well as at UXP Systems, a digital life company which was recently acquired by Amdocs.

Simon Young

General Manager – Transport & Infrastructure, Cisco

Simon is the General Manager for the Transport and Infrastructure market in Australia and New Zealand as part of the Strategic Industries Development Group. Simon is responsible for helping customers and partners define and deliver new digital businesses through go-to-market models and innovative technology engagement methodologies. Simon has driven transformational initiatives across various sales and engineering roles at Cisco including developing and leading the Internet of Things (IoT) business across Australia and New Zealand.

Professor Elaine Wong

Associate Dean (Diversity and Inclusion), Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, University of Melbourne

Elaine Wong is Associate Dean and Professor at the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, University of Melbourne. She has made numerous significant intellectual contributions in the field of optical fibre communications and optical networking. More recently she has worked on low-latency human-to-machine communications to support Tactile Internet and 5G and beyond networks.

Professor Thas Nirmalathas (Chair)

Lead, Wireless Innovation Lab, University of Melbourne

Professor Thas Nirmalathas currently leads the Wireless Innovation Lab at the University of Melbourne and the Electronic and Photonic Systems Research Group. He has also had many different leadership positions in organisations such as the Melbourne Networked Society Institute – an interdisciplinary research institute focusing on the connectivity between people, places, and things as a pathway for tackling societal challenges. His research interests are broadband access networks, optical-wireless networks, and edge compute networks.