The Future of Smart Cities
In the future, all cities will be smart cities. With more than one-half of the world’s population living in cities innovative new IoT solutions, such as smart parking, connected waste, and traffic management, hold great promise for combatting the major challenges of rapid urbanization. We are unlikely to see many Jetson-like smart cities of the future appearing overnight. However, like in the past with the adoption of revolutionary technologies such as sewers, electricity, traffic lights, and the Internet, mayors will slowly implement IoT solutions to save money, shape the future and make their cities better places to live.
The Internet of Things offers cities the unique opportunity to generate new revenue, save costs, improve efficiencies and increase the overall value and experience for its citizens. Solutions like smart lighting can greatly reduce a city’s expenditure on electricity and operations, while at the same time improving the safety and security of the inhabitants. Smart parking not only allows people to spend less time in their car searching for an open parking spot, it actually creates new sources of revenue for the city. Parking can now be priced on a variable, demand-driven basis, rather than a fix fee irrespective of the time of day. Such pricing flexibility allows rush-hour spots to generate much higher revenues than those available on a Sunday morning. Security cameras and traffic management solutions not only make citizens safer and save them time, but they allow police and emergency forces to be much more efficient and responsive to potential incidents.
All of these exciting and innovative solutions will truly deliver real value to the city and its inhabitants. I think that the next big source of innovation will be in bringing them all together using Big Data techniques to extract the limitless value from the data that is generated by each of these devices and applications. Imagine how weather and environmental data could help to regulate traffic flow and the need for greater illumination from the smart lighting? Or, how location based data from Wi-Fi could help identify the formation of crowds indicating possible security risks or just the need to empty the trash bins more frequently in that area. I think that we have only begun to scratch the surface as to how we can use data and advanced analytics to unlock the individual and collective value of all of these new smart solutions.
Compelling business cases and real life examples exist today of how creative and forward-looking city executives are using new, innovative technologies to realize the promises of smart cities. However, the path to becoming a smart city is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Or, even an ultra-marathon. We are unlikely to see entire futuristic smart cities emerging overnight. Smart city officials realize that they need to begin by focusing on solving the most pressing issues facing their cities, but also need to have a longer term view of the end goal. For some cities this means saving power with smart lighting, or improving the security of their citizens or improving the sense of community by offering public Wi-Fi. Done correctly, each of these solutions forms an intricate piece in the overall strategy of achieving a much smarter and connected city. Each of these solutions can be pursued separately to align with budget or political constraints.
Smart city officials realize that each of these initiatives is a stepping stone in creating a platform to achieving the overall goal. For example, there is a compelling business case in terms of power and operational savings for implementing smart lighting. But, upgrading the light poles offers a great platform for the implementation of additional services. Devices such as cameras, environmental monitors and Wi-Fi access points can share the power and data backhaul of the lighting solution to provide a wealth of new functionality at minimal incremental investments. It is this integrated and forward thinking and planning that will ensure true success in achieving smarter and better cities for the future.