Tech-driven human settlements roadmap in the pipeline

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The DST and CSIR say science, technology and innovation have a huge role to play in every aspect of human settlements.
The DST and CSIR say science, technology and innovation have a huge role to play in every aspect of human settlements.

The Department of Science and Technology, together with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), is developing a roadmap on how to adopt tech-driven innovation for SA's future housing and neighbourhoods.

Identified as the Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Human Settlement (STI 4 SHS) roadmap, the strategic framework recognises the demand for alternative and innovative technologies in the built environment to help achieve citizens' right to adequate housing and improved quality of life.

Peta de Jager, CSIR project leader and senior researcher, says the built environment is a conservative industry and tends to do things the same way, insisting on using bricks and mortar to build houses.

However, global risks such as climate change require governments to rethink how resources are managed.

The proposed roadmap is aimed at using science, technology and innovation (STI) to respond to these risks, notes De Jager.

"We know STI has got the ability to enhance our human habitat and human settlements. Together with our partners, we have put together a roadmap project. The thinking is to look at the neighbourhood of the future, and explore how science, technology and innovation can be used to improve the quality of lives of people."

The technology roadmap, which is a collaborative effort with other key stakeholders, is being rolled out in a phased approach, starting with the definition stage. This phase is meant to identify partners and collaborators to plot the way forward on how to partner together to make some of these technologies mainstream, she says.

"The definition phase is technically due to be finished between September and 31 March 2020. We are already in conversation with our partners to co-create this definition. The implementation phase is from next March and over the next 10 years.

"What we've been doing is identifying where the barriers are and how technology can make a difference and help us. We know in the public sector there is a backlog in provision. We know the quality of housing that is provided is sometimes not great and that budgets are not enough. So, if we can figure out ways of working together with both the public and private sectors and accelerate the provision of housing, then we can begin to figure out that 10-year plan."

Off-the-wall showcase

As part of the definition process for the STI 4 SHS roadmap project, the CSIR will host an "Off-the-Wall Human Settlements Showcase" on 8 and 9 February.

The event will feature a two-day open-air fair environment at which technologies can be demonstrated and discussed with human settlement stakeholders from the public and private sectors.

De Jager says the showcase event is part of a technology scan to have a look at what the future holds and what the partners should be looking at adopting for future neighbourhoods and rural settlements.

"The showcase is meant to see what is out there and spur conversation. We've invited a couple of investors, policy-makers, government stakeholders, as well as consultants. We are starting a multi-stakeholder conversation, which is meant to bring out some thinking on the matter and some coordinated effort in the future."

De Jager promises there will be several other engagement opportunities in the next couple of months as all parties involved define the roadmap.

"The event will feature exhibitions and pitching sessions. Entrepreneurs, innovators and industry in the country will use the opportunity to showcase new ideas for future houses and neighbourhoods. Selected projects will be featured in a book, while all exhibited innovations will be documented in a register, which forms part of the broader road mapping initiative.

"We are encouraging people to participate. We are trying to get all the emerging ideas to see some daylight and beyond this event we also look to continue these conversations."

Drone fever

In Gauteng, the Department of Infrastructure Development (DID) is already experimenting with technology to monitor and deliver building projects.

The provincial department is using five unmanned drones to monitor its infrastructure projects across the Gauteng city region's development corridors.

The drone programme is a partnership between the DID and University of Johannesburg, which resulted in the department signing a memorandum of understanding with the university in July 2018, to accelerate the delivery of public infrastructure through smart technologies.

The programme allows the DID to monitor building projects such as new schools, clinics, libraries and hospitals.

According to Jacob Mamabolo, Gauteng infrastructure development MEC, the drones help the department check whether construction on site is in accordance with architectural designs.

Mamabolo noted the drones help to ensure "every cent is accounted for", thereby contributing to the fight against corruption.

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