Countless people and technologies keep our cities safe, clean and efficient. While we interact with many in plain sight, others operate beneath the surface, improving our lives in ways we never fully realize. Here we offer a few examples of how cities are constantly getting smarter and will continue to do so as the trend towards urbanization and automation grows.
What does it mean to be a smart city? First, it requires more than simply offering public Wi-Fi or the latest digital cellular networks. It means that a municipality relies on technology to integrate a city’s infrastructure at every level. But until recently, “infrastructure” meant only physical assets such as roads, streetlights and sewers. Smart infrastructure expands upon that definition exponentially, to include invisible data networks that connect, enhance and control such physical structural fixtures, becoming the backbone of any truly smart city.
Modern connected infrastructure ambitiously aims to impact everything from energy and housing to transportation, education, healthcare and beyond. Ultimately, the goal is for all of these areas to be interconnected and feeding data to a centralized “brain” that helps coordinate many interconnected activities and services. Getting there requires a new level of partnerships, with contributions from governments, corporate entities and investors alike.
While the definition varies somewhat, the overarching mission of a smart city is to optimize city functions and drive economic growth while improving quality of life for its citizens, using smart technology and data collection and analysis in this pursuit.
A classic widely-employed example is the smart parking meter that uses an app to help drivers find available parking spaces without prolonged circling of crowded city blocks. The smart meter also enables digital payment, so there’s no risk of being short on coins for the meter.
In the transportation arena, smart traffic management is used to monitor and analyze traffic flow in order to optimize street light patterns and prevent traffic congestion, based on time of day or normal travel schedules. Smart public transit is another facet of smart cities, employed to ensure public transportation meets user demand. Smart transit companies can coordinate services and fulfill riders’ needs in real time, improving service efficiency and rider satisfaction. Ride-sharing and bike-sharing are some other services commonly found in a smart city.
Energy conservation and efficiency are major goals of smart cities. Using smart sensors, smart street lights dim when there are no cars or pedestrians nearby. Smart power grid technology can be used to improve operations, maintenance and planning, and to supply power on demand and monitor energy outages as they occur.
Smart city initiatives aim to monitor and address environmental concerns such as air pollution; and sanitation can be improved by smart technology, via internet-connected trash cans, Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled fleet management systems for waste collection and removal and sensors that measure various water parameters. Such smart sensors guarantee the quality of drinking water at the front end of the system and ensure proper waste water removal and drainage at the back end.
Smart city technology is increasingly being used to improve public safety as well, from monitoring areas of high crime to improving emergency preparedness through purposeful sensor distribution. Regarding the latter application, smart sensors become critical components of an early warning system before droughts, floods, landslides or hurricanes.
Smart buildings are also frequently part of a smart city landscape. Legacy infrastructure can be retrofitted, and new buildings constructed with sensors that offer simultaneous real-time space management, public safety assurance and building structural health assessments. Attaching sensors to buildings and other structures can detect wear and tear and notify officials when repairs are needed. Citizens can help with this matter by notifying officials through a smart city app when repairs are needed in buildings and public infrastructure, such as potholes. Sensors can also be used to detect leaks in water mains and other pipe systems, helping to reduce costs to and improve efficiency of public works systems.
And smart city technologies provide urban manufacturing and urban farming with certain benefits, including job creation, energy efficiency, space management and fresher products for consumers.
Sustainability is a crucial aspect of smart cities. Urbanization will only continue to increase in the coming years, in the same way that today, 80% of the US population lives in metropolitan areas versus 60% just 50 years ago. Smart technology will help cities sustain growth and improve efficiency for enhanced citizen welfare, thus increasing overall government efficiency in urban areas in the years to come.
Water meters and manhole covers are just two of the many city components monitored by smart sensors. Free, publicly available Wi-Fi is another perk smart city residents and visitors often enjoy.
Today’s cities are adding smart city features so that Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and other connected technologies can improve the lives of their citizens.
The concept of a smart city has existed for more than a decade, but it was only recently that the phrase became part of the modern lexicon. Now there are cities nationwide adding new technology to streamline everything from traffic, parking and street lights to public utilities, safety and city services.
This is happening with various departments such as police, street maintenance, sanitation and information technology (IT), depending on the city and the needs of its citizens. When one IoT sensor sends information to a department, the data is only valuable if the right person sees it. Discovering through a sensor that there is a gunshot on a city street means that the city services department that monitors the street light sensors must be able to relay that information to a 911 operator quickly and efficiently.
This only makes sense when you consider that the IoT normally sits at the cross section of operational technology and IT. That gunshot detection system mounted in street lights needs a strategic, operational and financial consideration from multiple parties.
As the IoT becomes mainstream, we are moving from a time when cities that were putting money into IoT initiatives were the leaders in advancing smart cities to a time where the cities not investing in smart city solutions are the ones being left behind.
Collaboration among cities and private industry has seen an uptick too, as cities and companies recognize there are opportunities for cooperation where everyone benefits. There are increasingly government-to-commercial collaborations occurring in smart cities, and 2019 will only see that increase..