Correspoding author: Anđela Bogdan, MSc.CE, EYE Croatia
We live in the time and environment where we strive for epithet “smart”. We are surrounded by smart phones and televisions, smart cars, smart gadgets etc., and many cities across the Globe are moving forward to that prestigious and increasingly important title ”smart city”. But, what that actually refers to?
A ”smart city” is an urban area that uses different types of electronic data collection sensors to supply information which is used to manage assets and resources efficiently. This includes data collected from citizens, devices, and assets that is processed and analyzed to monitor and manage traffic and transportation systems, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, information systems, schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community services.
What should a city optimize for?
The internet of things (IoT) has given rise to the smart home and smart office, with automated, internet-controlled devices like thermostats, security systems and connected home speakers. Now, urban areas around the world are investing in IoT to create smart cities, which are designed to improve efficiency and quality of life through data and technology.
The smart city concept integrates information and communication technology (ICT), and various physical devices connected to the network (the Internet of things or IoT) to optimize the efficiency of city operations and services and connect to citizens.
Programmer and tech writer Paul McFedries explained his thinking:
The city is a computer, the streetscape is the interface, you are the cursor, and your smartphone is the input device. This is the user-based, bottom-up version of the city-as-computer idea, but there’s also a top-down version, which is systems-based. It looks at urban systems such as transit, garbage, and water and wonders whether the city could be more efficient and better organized if these systems were ‘smart.’
Six essential technologies that can turn city into smart city
Each of these technologies work together to make a smart city even smarter. As the world’s population grows, and more people move into urban areas, the need for smarter cities will increase to make the best use of available resources.
1. Smart energy
Both residential and commercial buildings in smart cities are more efficient, using less energy, and the energy used is analysed and data collected. Smart grids are part of the development of a smart city, and smart streetlights are an easy entry point for many cities, since LED lights save money and pay for themselves within a few years. Overall energy usage is also part of a smart city. With the rise of home solar power systems and electric vehicles, hardware and software technology will allow for the potential of better grid management, optimization of power production through different sources and distributed energy production. Furthermore, buildings that monitor their energy usage actively and report this data to utilities can reduce their costs. This will ultimately lead to lower pollution and much better efficiency as cities become more urbanized.
2. Smart transportation
By making parking smarter, people spend less time looking for parking spots and circling city blocks. Smart traffic lights have cameras that monitor traffic flow so that it’s reflected in the traffic signals. A smart city is one that greatly reduces vehicle traffic and allows people and goods to be moved easily through various means. Intelligent traffic systems are an example of this and the achievement of autonomous vehicle transportation would be a prime example of success for a smart city, as this could reduce vehicle related deaths. All these efforts would reduce pollution as well as people’s time stuck in traffic, resulting in a healthier population.
3. Smart infrastructure
Cities will be able to plan better with a smart city’s ability to analyse large amounts of data. This will allow for pro-active maintenance and better planning for future demand. Being able to test for lead content in water in real time, when the data shows a problem is emerging, could prevent public health issues. Water runoff is one of the most important things a city can focus on. Not only does it directly impact its local drinking water, it impacts the experience within a city during times of poor weather. Focusing on smart drainage systems and filtration, cities could drastically improve the local living conditions. Having a smart infrastructure means that a city can move forward with other technologies and use the data collected to make meaningful changes in future city plans.
4. Smart mobility
Building a smart city will never be a project that is “finished.” Technology needs to be inter-operable and perform to expectations regardless of who made it or when it was made. Data also needs to be unconstrained as it moves between systems, with all due attention to intellectual property, security and privacy concerns. For this, public policy and legal technology needs to be state of the art.
5. Smart Internet of Things devices
One of the key components that ties everything together in a smart city are IoT devices. IoT involves extending internet connectivity beyond standard devices, such as desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets, to any range of traditionally dumb or non-internet-enabled physical devices and everyday objects. The 2020 total of IoT devices installed across the world will be more than twice this year’s figure, says Gartner. There are 8.4 billion connected things (devices) in 2017, setting the stage for 20.4 billion IoT devices to be deployed by 2020, according to analyst firm Gartner.
6. Smart data
The massive amounts of data collected by a smart city must be analysed quickly in order to make them useful. Open data portals are one option that some cities have chosen in order to publish city data online, so that anyone can access it and use predictive analytics to assess future patterns. Companies such as CommunityLogiq are working with cities to help them analyse data.
Smart Cities create a cleaner environment
The IoT can also help cities improve public health. A recent study found dirty air and water led to a staggering 9 million deaths in 2016 alone. For this reason, cities with chronically unhealthy air, such as Delhi in India and Beijing in China, are beginning to leverage sensor networks designed to alert residents when particulate levels are dangerously high.
But dirty air even blankets High Street in London, a city where up to 9,000 deaths per year are attributed to air pollution. London-based Drayson Technologies has been testing the use of networked air quality sensors that are distributed to bicycle couriers and to a fleet of fuel-cell cars. The sensors, which transmit data to smartphones via Bluetooth, allow Drayson to create real-time maps showing air pollution levels around the city.
In Oakland, California, an environmental sensing startup called Aclima, partnered with Google, EDF and researchers from UT Austin to create a highly detailed block-by-block map of air pollution, using a fleet of Google Street View vehicles carrying specialized sensors. By expanding this model across cities, mobile technology using networks of sensors could help policy makers identify pockets of dangerous air quality in order to better regulate or eliminate the sources of that pollution.
Detecting and preventing crop-destroying diseases
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, around one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year is lost or wasted somewhere along the supply chain. That’s 1.4 billion tons of lost nutrition for a growing planet. IoT can minimize crop losses and help the food industry to be more productive. For example, through a combination of advanced cameras, sensors, weather stations and artificial intelligence, Israeli startup Prospera can help farmers respond quickly to signs of trouble such as crop disease, while also boosting productivity by as much as a third.
IoT in healthcare: sustaining quality of life
The IoT can also unlock a staggering amount of value in the healthcare industry by helping doctors gain faster access to health-related data from patients, collected through continuous monitoring and measurement. Wearable, internet-connected sensor devices that track heart rate, pulse, or even blood pressure are increasingly affordable, compact and accurate. While there are serious concerns about how to best safeguard the collection and transmission of this data between patients and their doctors, and how doctors could best leverage it for insights into patients’ health trends over time and between checkups, wearables are one of the most promising IoT applications in healthcare.
IoT security challenges
The IoT is taking the world by storm. The millions of connected sensors and smart devices that are being deployed on a daily basis in homes, offices, cities and even on our persons are creating unprecedented opportunities in cutting costs, reducing energy consumption, improving efficiency and customer services, and better understanding how we interact with our environment.
But this added utility comes with its own set of caveats and requirements, which need to be met and overcome with the proper solutions and approaches.
The most important aspect to consider is security. Smart cities rely on constant connectivity to volumes of data from stationary and moving sensors which is transformed into useful information using data analytics to provide a better quality of life.
Failure to secure this data and having it put into the wrong people’s hands can cause extreme damage and lead to catastrophic event. Concerns will no longer be limited to the protection of sensitive information and assets. Critical city infrastructure can also become a target, as the Ukraine power grid hack warned us just few years ago.
All that means that the engineers across the world are being tasked with solving ever more complex and subtle societal challenges – from climate change to unprecedented urbanisation that is materially affecting the lives of many urban populations. As engineers become ever more interdisciplinary and the boundaries of disciplines soften, they need to reflect as a community as to the appropriateness of the engineering paradigm to address these needs.
Although the future of smart cities may be machine-led, human innovation will always be the driving force behind these developments. With society hurtling towards the future of smart cities as fast as the widest bandwidth will allow, the next generation of tech innovators will be the minds shaping our ‘tech-topias’ for years to come.
Universities will play a leading role in producing technologically-aware and innovative engineers to lead us into this digital utopia. It’s a monumental task to realise artificial intellingence’s full potential and to do it in a sustainable manner as well – If they succeed, that will be a victory – for the history books!
Paul McFedries, “The City as System [Technically Speaking],” IEEE Spectrum 51:4 (April 2014): 36, https://doi.org/10.1109/MSPEC.2014.6776302
About the author
Anđela Bogdan is Master in Civil Engineering, graduated at the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the University in Zagreb, Croatia. Since 2014, she is an Associate expert at the Croatian Association of Civil Engineers, where she works on the EU project: Continuous Professional Development for Green Building. She is Editor of the scientific/professional journal Gradjevinar. She wrote more than 30 articles about significant and large-scale construction sites and reconstruction/renewal activities. In January 2018, Anđela became a member of EYE Croatia and since October 2018, she is a Task Force Member of EYE.