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University of Pretoria, CSIR to accelerate smart cities initiatives

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The University of Pretoria (UP) has signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), to collaborate on SA’s smart transport, smart cities and smart environmental projects.

The partnership entails the cooperative use of CSIR laboratories, an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation, and UP’sEngineering 4.0 campus.

Engineering 4.0 is an initiative between UP, the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) and the CSIR, focused on research and training for smart transport systems.

The “state-of-the-art” Engineering 4.0 building, based at the university, will host Africa’s first independent transport reference and testing facility.

The university says these facilities along with CSIR laboratories complement each other and allow for larger research projects to be executed, with the involvement of postgraduate students.

The collaboration also entails jointly working towards the establishment of a CSIR Research Chair in Smart Mobility at UP, which will fund senior researchers and postgraduate students who will conduct research in areas of targeted need, according to the council.

Professor Wynand Steyn, head of the Department of Civil Engineering in UP’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, says smart transport, cities and environments are part of an integrated system that encompasses digitised transportation systems, parking management, reduced traffic congestion and addressing environmental problems.

“The aim of these projects is to reduce energy consumption levels in transportation, maximise productivity in industry and provide a higher quality of life for citizens.

“In order to work towards smart cities, there is a need to develop researchers with advanced skills in robotics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of things and satellite technology. To this end, researchers will be trained through complementary skills at UP and the CSIR.”

The collaboration will further develop the skills required to design, construct, maintain and rehabilitate the extensive roads network in the country that is vital for accessibility and mobility of its communities, and in support of economic opportunities, addsSteyn.

Kenny Kistan, CSIR executive cluster manager: smart mobility, points out that the Smart Mobility Cluster of the CSIR sees the collaboration with the Engineering Faculty of UP as an integral component of its strategic initiative to address transport and infrastructure challenges in the country and on the continent.

“This partnership will enable us to share our expertise to accelerate technology solutions in South Africa’s smart mobility sector.This will undoubtedly contribute to improving and advancing economic activity.

“This initiative is also a positive start to co-create scientific knowledge and multi-faceted technological innovation and solutions which is in line with our implementation plan and is linked to CSIR’s mandate to support and strengthen industrial activity in the country,” says Kistan.

Professor Sunil Maharaj, dean of EBIT, says the Engineering 4.0 building, which will be launched soon, will test materials for the road construction industry. “Such testing will characterise materials for appropriate construction and maintenance. It is also a research and training hub for smart transport systems.”

In March, the CSIR released preliminary findings of it smart city report, titled: “Inclusive smart cities appropriate to the South African context – challenges and opportunities”.

The report revealed that international perceptions of smart cities that bear no resemblance to South African cities create unrealistic smart city expectations, often based on generic models that may not be suitable to South African conditions. This results in much difficulty in convincing some stakeholders of the need to consider the local context when identifying smart city interventions.

Professor Tawana Kupe, UP vice-chancellor and principal, says: “We sign this MOA following a national and global fight against the COVID-19 health crisis.

“This pandemic requires us to look at innovative and unconventional ways of doing things in the higher education sector in partnership with institutions like the CSIR. It is a big wake-up call to think and do things differently, if we want to take the lead as South Africa, with our universities playing an essential role in co-creating the continent we want beyond COVID-19.”

He notes that in this partnership, UP seeks to advance the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with a particular focus on innovation and infrastructure, as sustainable cities and communities are critical for developing any economy.

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