Smart cities deploy connected sensors and devices into utilities, transport, and other public services to help visualize and control how they operate, improve their efficiency, and enable innovative new experiences and service delivery models.
What is it?
Every smart city is different. Each one applies its own blend of connected technologies to solve the unique challenges faced in that environment. But, there are a few shared traits that most smart cities have in common.
In general, all smart cities use sensors to gather data from public services and environments, then use that data to generate revenue and solve societal and environmental challenges. Connected devices harvest live data, then feed it into big data processing platforms, so that it can be used to create an urban environment that works more effectively and efficiently, encouraging economic growth and creating new opportunities for government and businesses, while improving the quality of life for residents and visitors.
Alongside sensors and big data, smart city initiatives feature technologies such as cloud and edge computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and digital platforms — all geared for better service delivery and improving citizen experiences.
What’s in for you?
Smart city initiatives can bring huge benefits for citizens and the public sector. From using data to improve traffic flows and reduce emissions, to optimizing the way essential public services are managed and delivered, they can truly transform our daily lives for the better. But it’s not just citizens and cities that benefit.
Many of the innovations that power smart cities are provided by private companies. As cities around the world design their better-connected future, they’re looking to local and global technology experts to help. If you’re a business that can help, the rise of smart cities represents a huge growth opportunity.
But perhaps most excitingly, smart cities are also creating opportunities to innovate and build a whole new kind of public services. Many smart cities use open data registries to support their initiatives. In the UK, Transport for London maintains 80 open data feeds to more than 13,000 developers, enabling them to create the next generation of connected public services and build solutions around the challenges faced in our cities today.
What are the trade offs?
It’s certainly a challenge to make such a large-scale change to an established city with a web of interconnected systems like utilities, waste, transport, and other public services. It can be a challenging undertaking with a lot of complexity.
Smart city initiatives can be effective when they start small and expand. And though no two smart cities are going to be identical, looking for success stories in cities with similar populations, environments and challenges is useful.
In some cases, smart city pioneers will need to contend with concerns around privacy, particularly if an initiative collects a lot of data from citizens or uses a large camera network, for example. Projects should abide by existing communication, transparency and privacy policies that provide guidance on what kind of data can be collected, how it’s being used, and the steps leaders are taking to follow these policies.
How is it being used?
The Norwegian city of Oslo has launched a variety of smart city plans, many in aid of its goal to become carbon-neutral by 2050. In many of the city’s buildings, sensors monitor the heating, lighting and other systems, actively turning them on and off when they’re needed to reduce energy usage.
In the Netherlands, Amsterdam has created an open database to support smart city projects that includes 12,000 datasets from various city districts. Its IoT Living Lab incorporates thousands of different connected devices into a large, public urban area, where citizens can help test and refine different initiatives.
Leaders in Barcelona, Spain, have attached sensors to the city’s network of LED streetlights to monitor vehicle and pedestrian movement, air quality, and noise levels — all data which can be funnelled into projects to manage traffic and reduce pollution.
Across all of these cities, the projects have had a significant impact on citizen experiences and daily lives. But, they’ve also enabled greater innovation across both the private and public sector. Local governments benefit from more efficient management and delivery of public services, and businesses gain powerful new revenue streams that can easily be applied in other smart cities in the future.