Hearing the term smart cities, one might imagine incredible urban environments — complete with autonomous vehicles, robots performing routine tasks, and advanced technologies working in harmony to offer maximum convenience at every possible point.
While the scenario above could become the reality for those in “Smart Cities”, it’s doubtful that the mentioned amenities will be commonplace everywhere. However, as new technologies are implemented, the city itself will become a platform to solve challenges that people face on daily basis.
What is a smart city?
Simply put, it’s a city that uses technology to make smarter decisions for the benefit of both the government and its citizens. By making better decisions, a city can become more environmentally sustainable and quality of life can improve for residents. This all combines to make a city economically competitive and attractive. Through the IOT, data can be collected and used to build these cities.
A smart city could potentially see many benefits, including better transportation, less traffic, better roads, cleaner air, more efficient waste removal, energy control, and improvements in water consumption monitoring.
Why smarter decision making is becoming necessary
By 2050, 68% of the world’s population will be residing in urban areas. Around 2010, this number was close to 50%. The amount of growth is astonishing. The western part of the world will surpass global percentages with 80% of people living in cities before this same time period.
The increase in urban population will require new solutions to problems caused by urbanization. By applying smart technology, quality of life can still be maintained as these areas become more populated. They will be able to effectively improve what a city has to offer as it scales to handle more growth.
Small initiatives, big impacts
William D. Eggers and John Skowron of Deloitte, released an extensive report which explored how the Government, Private sector, and citizens are collectively working toward the same goal of offering better public services and a higher standard of living. This collaboration and sharing of information is solving significant challenges and benefiting everyone as a result. The following are examples of current initiates they shared:
In Jordan, the city of Amman is using data to track waste management. This enables them to measure which areas are generating more waste. Trucks from other areas with remaining room (they would often return with little to no trash in some areas) are redirected to the zones where waste is still needing to be removed.
The city of Amsterdam and Waag have partnered to implement an air quality monitoring system. They decided to forego expensive equipment that would have been required to accurately monitor the air. Instead, they developed the Amsterdam Smart Citizen’s Lab which provided citizens with inexpensive sensor kits and taught them how to upload the data from their sensors.
Boston health inspectors are working with Harvard University in using public information from Google and Yelp reviews to predict which restaurants are more likely to violate health codes. Not only does this allow the government to improve safety, it also allows their inspectors to be 30–50% more productive in their inspections. There is another program in Boston, aimed at improving the quality of streets. People living in the city can download an app called Street Bump, to automatically maker note of potholes using the sensors in your phone.
In Cascais, Portugal, the city has enabled citizens to report issues they see throughout their daily routine with an app called FixCascais. These reports are sent to local municipalities, allowing for a faster response in addressing these problems.
In Kentucky, Air Louisville has equipped inhalers with a sensor to report each time one is used. This data helps determine air quality in areas and potential triggers people are being exposed to.
While the possibilities that present themselves with the use of smart city technology offer great benefits, there is a concern for data being harvested to fuel these solutions. How will the data be used? How personal is the data? Who will have access to it? How are these technologies being funded? These are just a few questions that come to mind when trying to understand the impact these smart city technologies could have.
In order to make smarter decisions, vast amounts of information must be collected. Current copper-based LAN infrastructure wasn’t designed to support the amount of connectivity required to effectively gather this data. Implementing a fiber-based LAN would solve the challenges associated with current systems. This type of infrastructure would act as a point of aggregation for all data collected through the IOT. Fiber offers increased security, better reach, more bandwidth, and by design it easily scales to meet the needs of the future.
Transparency from government agencies and the private sector is essential. With clear parameters defining that the data harvested isn’t too personal, it seems the benefits would be worthwhile to most citizens. San Diego’s smart city initiative has recently implemented technologies to improve traffic flow, all while protecting private information. This is a great case of safely harvesting data and implementing smart technologies to push towards a higher standard of city living. David Graham, COO of San Diego discusses the benefits and challenges of implementing this technology here:
The future of the smart city
Presently, Toronto has become the focus of many companies in developing technologies for smart cities. A group of companies have partnered to open the “Smart City Sandbox” a hub for developing technologies aimed at improving urban quality of life and a sustainable future.
A current project is developing traffic lights that sense areas of congestion and work to improve traffic flows. The collection of big data through the IOT, AI, and machine learning technologies will drive development and solutions for their city.
The sandbox uses a group think strategy to overcome the challenges that are being faced. The hub is currently led by IBI Group, but they’re making room for other players in the space. Small to medium sized companies can apply to work on issues from health, mobility, energy, living and other categories. They will have three to six months to access resources from bigger companies to help develop solutions. Having access to resources they otherwise wouldn’t, means the potential to develop their ideas becomes much more of a reality.
Google Alphabet’s company Sidewalk Labs, has tasked themselves with building a city that offers the best in available technology for a smart city. The above picture is Quayside, Toronto, the area that Sidewalk Labs proposes to transform into their futuristic neighborhood. “All of our thinking and decisions on Quayside are shaped by the question ‘What do 21st-century technologies enable us to do better?’” says Rit Aggarwala, Chief Policy Officer of Sidewalk Labs. They plan to have autonomous vehicles as transportation and underground tunnels to transport waste and deliver mail/packages, among many other things. This small, 12 acre area will allow them to begin testing their current plans. By gathering data they will be able to determine what changes would need to be made to scale and accommodate more growth. This project centers around the goal of using current technologies to make an urban space offer the highest quality of life. It’s exciting to see what will come of this project.
Top five smart city FiberLAN benefits
The real idea
These smart city technologies are rapidly developing, and if implemented properly can improve government services and offer a better quality of life. As technologies continue to advance, the focus of the city shifts to address specific challenges that citizens in that area face. Through the application of these solutions cities will be able to drive change in education, living standard, transportation, economy, and environment.
Businesses can support smart city endeavors through partnering with mayors and city councils. Individuals can contact city planners about initiatives to encourage smart city usage and growth. Working collectively, cities can find innovative solutions to the obstacles they encounter, making their city a better place for everyone.