Smart Cities: What Are They and How Will They Shape How We Live?

Heatherwick Studio
A rendering of the Quayside neighborhood development in Toronto.

Smart City: The Future of Urban Living

Building “raincoats” that provide cover from cold weather and rain then open up in warm temperatures? Heated sidewalks that reduce ice and snow? These cutting-edge innovations all revolve around one idea: building tomorrow’s “smart city.”  

Also referred to as Cyberville, smart cities are popping up all across the globe. In fact, 12 of the top 50 smart cities are in the United States. They have the potential to shape everything about life as we know it, from smart mobility to waste management to security to renewable energy, but the average citizen has no idea what it means. Openbay is here to tell you what you need to know. 

As city populations grow and resources dwindle, governments are confronted with a challenge: to make cities more livable, workable and sustainable. The solution is to collect various pieces of electronic data from devices, assets and citizens, connect that data to the Internet of Things (IoT) and process the information using artificial intelligence (AI) in order to better manage available resources. In turn, smart cities will enhance the quality and efficiency of urban services (like waste management and transportation), while also reducing waste and costs.

People living in cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Washington D.C. Charlotte, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Philadelphia are already experiencing living in data-driven utopias. Experts predict that this is just the beginning of the future of urban living. The United Nations reports that there are a total of 1.3 million people moving into cities every week, with the urban populations growing 68% by the year 2050.

Smart Mobility and Big Data

As we read headlines about the impending reality of autonomous vehicles hitting our highways, safety issues arise. The solution: Big Data. With the evolution of IoT, our cars can see, hear and even predict the future to save our lives in an emergency. 

Without Big Data, a driverless car in a smart city is just a dream. That’s why vehicles and cities are learning to communicate and pool together data for better outcomes. Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V), Vehicle to Network (V2N), Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) and Vehicle to Pedestrians (V2P) connectivity offer endless possibilities for communication between between smart cities and connected cars to enhance smart mobility by leaps and bounds.

Current V2I solutions include plate recognition software to automate gas station payments (EazyOil), dynamic traffic light control that allows emergency vehicles to change the signals when they get close to an intersection (Traffitizer Technologies) and dashcams that track traffic and road conditions to help city planners improve the roads (Nexar). Parkio uses V2N connectivity to send real-time information on available parking spaces to drivers. By delivering vehicle data to other vehicles, networks, infrastructure and pedestrians, our roadways will be safer, life will be easier and emergency responses will be more efficient. 

Commuting times are a major concern for cities with booming populations, and cities like Washington D.C. are taking action. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) recently announced a new public-private collaboration between governments, companies, investors, nonprofits and academic institutions to create smart regional growth and become the nation’s leading digitally enabled region. The group is exploring applications such as smart traffic lights to better manage traffic flow and make the region’s streets safer. “We care about making Greater Washington a smart region because it can level the playing field to make it easier for all people to get to work, access the internet, and live in a safe neighborhood,” explains Rosie Allen-Herring, President and CEO of the United Way of the National Capital Area.

By leveraging Big Data and Vehicle to Everything (V2X) connectivity, smart cities are tackling the most critical transportation-related issues associated with large populations: increased travel times, longer commute distances, road safety, limited parking, deteriorating road infrastructure, traffic and overall congestion. 

Smart Sustainability and Growing Populations

Growing populations present larger issues beyond transportation management. Startups are leveraging IoT to tackle the issue of sustainability. Nordsense is redefining waste management by using artificial intelligence (AI) powered senses in waste containers to monitor which ones need to be emptied soon. Garbage trucks are the sent on the most efficient route to empty bins that need immediate attention. This advanced technology reduces C02 emissions, lessens noise pollution and decrease traffic congestions from trucks, while preventing unsanitary bin overflows.

Bin-e and Waste Robotics are using IoT-connected devices, robotic technology, deep learning algorithms and computer vision to automatically sort waste into categories of recyclables to promote eco-friendly workplaces and cities. 

Natural disasters are becoming more common across the world as global warming takes its toll. Cities now see the value in using smart city technology to predict and manage public services (police, fire, medical, sanitation and water) during and after natural disasters.  Builders, insurers and financiers also want better tools to forecast damage. Smart city technologies are aiming to meet these needs. 

What’s Next: Shorter Commutes, Safer Streets and Smarter Resource Management

Smart-city strategies are built around people, not technology. Cities are learning that the best way to deliver a better quality of life is through leveraging technology and data purposefully to make better decisions. 

By 2025, smart city projects can reduce commute times by up to 15 to 20 percent. If smart city applications are deployed properly, they could potentially reduce fatalities (from homicide, road traffic and fires) by 8 to 10 percent. Incidents of assault, robbery, burglary and auto theft could be lowered by 30 to 40 percent (McKinsey Global Institute). There is no metric to calculate peace of mind, but safer streets and shorter commutes are bound to contribute to better quality of living. 

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