The city of the future will be smart. And although smart city visions differ, at their heart is the notion that in the coming decades, the planet’s most heavily concentrated populations will occupy city environments where a digital blanket of sensors, devices, and cloud-connected data are being brought together to enhance the city living experience for all.
Smart, in this context, encompasses all of the key elements that enable city ecosystems to function effectively – from traffic control and environmental protection to the management of energy, sanitation, healthcare, security, and buildings.
It is therefore important that city governments create inclusive processes that inform citizens about the forces shaping the future and then engage them in dialogue about the kind of future we want to create.
Smart cities are designed to capture massive amounts of data about the population and its patterns – and to use this data to inform decisions. This is what is called big data, and it is essentially gathered via surveillance.It is collated from a constantly evolving and expanding IoT – encompassing traffic lights and cameras, pollution sensors, building control systems, and personal devices. The ability to crunch all this data is becoming easier due to rampant growth in the use of devices algorithms, AI, and predictive software.
For example, in the UK, where $634B is earmarked for infrastructure over the next several years, drivers are already saving up to half an hour per day on the M62 smart motorway thanks to congestion management techniques such as dynamic signage, variable speed limits and peak period access to the hard shoulder.
Essentially the Internet of Things (IoT) means that everything (“things”) – and potentially everyone – will become beacons and data collection devices.Hence, after data, the IoT is the second driving force behind the rise of smart infrastructure; in order for everything from air conditioning to parking meters to function in a smart city, the use of microphones, sensors, voice recognition, etc. must be hooked up to the IoT.
For example, in India a study suggests that light poles along the highways can offer both smart city and connectivity solutions; monitoring road conditions and providing high-speed data connections for travelers.
As cities grow in size and importance to the global economy, it will be increasingly important that they adopt the most innovative and forward-thinking design and sustainability ideas.
South Korea, for example, is planning an entire network of smart roads by 2020, including battery-charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) as well as infrastructure to handle autonomous vehicles.
The data each city collects will enable us to make the best possible use of space, fuel, energy, water, electricity, and all resources, with an emphasis on sustainability.
Scientific forecasting tools will predict the solar weather, helping the rollout of solar on smart roads and in homes.Eventually, with a growing array of such distributed power solutions, a centralized energy distribution grid for UK homes and businesses may not be necessary.
Smart cities have the potential to transform the organization of people and physical objects in a way that transcends urban development as we know it.The shift to smart infrastructure is not simply fashionable or aspirational; it appears to be a critical enabler of the future sustainability of cities.
Arguably, the future of human life on Earth rests on a smooth transition to cities that are more efficient, less wasteful, and more conscious of the impacts of the individual upon the greater good.