These days everything is becoming smart thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). We have smart fridges, smartwatches, smart TVs and so much more, with new smart devices being released every day. Every day another smart device is created allowing us to improve our day-to-day lives. The improvement to our quality of life can be seen as the central aim of nearly all smart things, but this is especially true of smart city initiatives.
Smart cities are not one single smart device, but rather the connection of hundreds of thousands or even millions of smart devices working to improve the day-to-day activities of the city as a whole. They utilize various data collection sensors and procedures to gain information used to guide the efficient use and management of city resources. Not all smart cities collect the same data, rather they focus on the data most important to their particular prioritized goals.
The push towards smart cities largely began in the major urban areas of Europe, but have quickly expanded through cities in North America, Australia, and Asia. It is estimated that in 2020 the world will spend almost $400 billion on smart city initiatives in over 600 countries across the globe. More cities continue to join the smart city bandwagon each year. And it makes sense that cities would prioritize these improvements for their residents given the rapid growth being seen in urban centers. Some experts believe that more than 60% of the world's population will be living in urban centers by 2050. By utilizing smart city technologies, these cities can help to alleviate some common urban challenges that are experienced by these growing centers.There are many smart city technologies being used or planned today across the world. Cities decide which areas are a priority for them and focus on technology meant to improve those areas. No two cities face identical challenges, in the same way, so every smart city initiative will look a little different. However, there are some common technologies which are essential parts of nearly every smart city.
Smart City Essentials
First, nearly every smart city requires smart transportation solutions. Often this includes a mix of technologies which optimize public transit, commercial vehicles, and personal vehicles. Mobile applications are common solutions for public transit, for example, as they can help users plan and monitor their trips or identify solutions for unexpected delays or breakdowns. These apps can also help cities to track their commuter volumes at various times to better predict demand and optimize their service.
Another common smart city requirement is resource and waste management solutions. Cities are finding unique ways to manage the distribution and monitoring of electricity, water, and natural gas, as well as the removal and treatment of wastes and recycling. IoT devices are a commonly used solution to improve the operations responsible for these services. IoT devices are a common solution not just for waste and resource management but for a variety of smart city initiatives. They work to gather essential data about the city and its components which can provide insight into areas of improvement. They can also help to create an autonomous network of devices capable of controlling and optimizing the city on their own. For example, these devices can connect smart vehicles to smart roads to smart intersections to smart services and more, helping to make our roadways safer and more efficient.
Many other technological advancements have been used or are being created by various cities across the world. For example, some cities are rolling out IoT connected trash cans in public areas, which are powered by solar panels. These trashcans can automatically detect when they are getting full, and send an alert to the necessary city service to empty it. Smart streetlights are also being rolled out in many cities which utilize LED bulbs that automatically alter their brightness based on the vehicle or foot traffic nearby. This way they can save power when not needed but are able to maximize brightness when there are many vehicles or people in the area.
Testing New Technology
Cities can be slow to adapt because of their size and number of stakeholders, and it can, therefore, be difficult and costly for cities to test new technology. University campuses are often utilized - either intentionally or inadvertently - as a testing ground for smart city technology. This is because university campuses function as miniature cities, with similar logistical challenges faced by their full-sized counterparts. Students and staff on university campuses are able to test out new smart technology and benefit from the improvements to the campuses day-to-day operations. These tests also help to demonstrate potential value which cities could expect to see by implementing these technologies across their area. University students and researchers are also at the forefront of developing new smart technologies, allowing for these institutes to benefit from their advanced knowledge of these initiatives.
Building a Smart City
Cities looking to begin a smart city initiative need to begin by identifying pain points which smart technology could alleviate. By demonstrating the value of these initiatives it becomes easier to gain support and funding from the government and members of the public. As mentioned above, there are some common pain points which many smart cities focus on, as well as challenges that may be more unique to your city. By identifying potential areas of improvement, it becomes easier to determine the value that smart technological solutions can provide.
The next step would be to create a prioritized list of these pain points and begin adopting technologies into the various sectors of focus. Solutions can be modeled after other successful smart cities or could be unique to your city's needs. What your priorities look like will be dependant on a variety of factors, including geographical location, population demographics, city size and density, general cultural practices, and more. It may be important to focus on one project at a time, or you might decide to initiate several projects at once. However, you decide to prioritize, having a clear plan makes it easier to move forward in your smart city initiatives.
Additionally, it is essential to remember that the smart city journey is one without a clear or defined end. Rather you will continue to improve and expand upon your smart technology to expand your initiatives as the world continues to push forward with IoT and smart technology. Unlike a watch or a TV which are either smart or they aren't, cities exist on a spectrum. Cities aiming to improve their smart technology will be working towards an ever-changing goal. While this may sound daunting, this is actually a wonderful opportunity for continued growth and change. You can continue to invest in the benefits that smart technology can provide, helping to boost your economy and the quality of life for the residents of your city.