Smart cities: 6 essential technologies

Source: TechRepublic 

Smart cities are no longer the wave of the future. They are here now and growing quickly as the Internet of Things (IoT) expands and impacts municipal services around the globe.

The smart city industry is projected to be a $400 billion market by 2020, with 600 cities worldwide. These cities are expected to generate 60% of the world's GDP by 2025, according to McKinsey research, as previously published in TechRepublic.

While there are many definitions of a smart city, in general, a smart city utilizes IoT sensors, actuators and technology to connect components across the city, and it impacts every layer of a city, from underneath the streets, to the air that citizens are breathing. Data from all segments is analyzed, and patterns are derived from the collected data.

There are key technologies that make a smart city work. Here are the top six:

1. Smart energy

Both residential and commercial buildings in smart cities are more efficient, using less energy, and the energy used is analyzed 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, as reported previously by TechRepublic.

"Lighting is ubiquitous—it's everywhere that people work, travel, shop, dine, and relax. Digital communications and energy-efficient LED lighting are revolutionizing urban lighting infrastructures already in place, transforming them into information pathways with the capacity to collect and share data and offer new insights that enable, and really drive, the smart city," said Susanne Seitinger, PhD., Philips Lighting, professional systems.

Overall energy usage is also part of a smart city. "Many may have experienced this already with the installation of smart meters at their homes. But 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," said Herman Chandi, co-founder of CommunityLogiq.

And there are also smart grids and smart meters. "Smart grid solutions play an important role in the development of smart cities. From prepaid energy applications to advanced metering infrastructure, there are several solutions to enhance energy services. With a smart grid, you can improve outage detection, speed of data capture, continuing and disaster recovery, field service operations and overall grid modernization techniques," said Mike Zeto, general manager and executive director of AT&T Smart Cities.

2. Smart transportation

A smart city supports multi-modal transportation, smart traffic lights and smart parking.

"One of the key areas that we have seen a lot of activity on has to do with mobility. Anything around transportation, traffic monitoring, parking," said Sanjay Khatri, director of product marketing and IoT services for Jasper. "These are areas where cities are seeing a very fast return on investment. It not only helps to reduce the cost of monitoring parking and making sure that they are collecting fines, it's also reducing congestion."

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, Khatri said.

Even city buses are becoming connected, so that people have real time information on when a bus will arrive at a bus stop. In Australia, traffic lights are prioritized based on the bus schedules so that traffic flows more freely during rush hours, Khatri said.

Chandi said, "it's using sensors to collect data about the movement of people, all forms of vehicles and bikes. 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 time stuck in traffic, resulting in a healthier population."

3. Smart data

The massive amounts of data collected by a smart city must be analyzed quickly in order to make it 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 analyze data, and they're in the Startup in Residence (STiR) program for the city of San Francisco.

"The pervasiveness of technology and the expansion of open data policies is about to unleash an economic growth engine for urban innovation that we have never seen. We are moving from analyzing data that exists within city hall, to generating new data from sensors that are deployed all across cities for use by multiple departments and people for multiple uses," said John Gordon, chief digital officer at Current, powered by GE.

Even the data collected by streetlights can be used to benefit citizens. "Hidden within the exponential volumes of data collected from connected lighting systems and other IoT devices are valuable insights and information about how citizens interact with cities. For instance, traffic data captured by streetlights can uncover a prime location for a new restaurant in a revitalized neighborhood. Predictive analytics helps cities filter and translate data into relevant and actionable information that makes city life better, easier, and more productive," Seitinger said.

4. Smart infrastructure

Cities will be able to plan better with a smart city's ability to analyze 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, Chandi said.

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.