So, what does a smart city look like? How does it function, and who is expected to pay for all of those expensive gadgets that make it work? And, while we’ve been quick to adopt smart things at home, why have cities been lagging behind?
But first, what is a smart city?
In short, a smart city is a connected city. It’s an ecosystem of people, devices and things communicating and collaborating. Technically speaking, a smart city uses the IoT to detect, analyze and share information that enables an urban area to operate more efficiently or improve quality of life.
The idea of technology collecting and recording data on citizens can be alarming and often raises questions of privacy and security. However, building a smart ecosystem relies on cooperation among citizens, government and private entities — and fostering greater empowerment, community engagement and social impact between citizens and governing groups.
Many smart cities have applied federal grants or private sponsorships to host resident-involved hackathon events. These competitions inspire and encourage citizens and startups to bring their innovative solutions to the table. Winning solutions can then be dropped into a pilot program for testing before large investments are made.
Smart city technology is, to a great degree, the same IoT technology we’re already experiencing in the home — but applied at a larger scale. Cloud technologies such as Microsoft Azure make these city initatives possible by providing agile, reliable and secure platforms that enable citywide connectivity.
Technologies enabling smart cities include:
Why are smart cities needed? Or aren’t they?
The reason behind a smart city is subjective, and the mission for each smart city initiative spans a wide spectrum of problem-solving. Many smart city initiatives begin with some of our most daunting challenges as a civilization, such as:
- How do we maximize resources while reducing waste?
- How do we improve quality of life for all citizens?
- How do we build a more inclusive society?
Here are some ways the IoT is impacting cities:
Many smart city plans aim to maximize resources and reduce waste. Smart meters, for example, help energy companies enhance grid reliability and gain visibility over grid performance to respond quickly when issues arise.
Similarly, a self-optimizing building can improve energy efficiency by automatically turning off lights in vacant rooms, adjusting air cooling and heating to be more economical, and more. Smart cities also have a sustainability impact on waste management and water conservation.
The IoT is being applied in innovative and critical ways to improve public safety, as well. For example, sound sensors enable gunshot detection. Coupled with AI, integrated security systems can create predictive gunshot detection or real-time incident mapping and share accurate, immediate information to emergency responders and civilians.
From dockless bicycle sharing systems for greater user convenience to smart stoplights that improve traffic flow, to dynamic public transit scheduling based on predictability models to match demand — the IoT enables an abundance of innovations in the transportation industry to make mobility easier and more efficient.
Elderly and disability services
Inclusion is a big part of the smart city conversation today — and that means ensuring accessibility goes beyond devices to encompass entire communities. The IoT and technologies such as self-driving cars can help aging populations or people with vision, hearing or other disabilities be more mobile and self-sufficient.
Why do smart cities fail?
Many challenges surround executing and sustaining a smart city because it has to be run by, well, a city. That puts the burden of management on municipalities and their elected officials. And, with a city council that’s continuously changing every few years, it’s imperative to have a strategic but flexible long-term roadmap that can adjust to shifting priorities and budgets.