Intel’s Sameer Sharma Makes A Brilliant Case For The Smart City
Source: Forbes | Forbes Insight | November 29, 2018
While the citizens of Singapore, Chicago, Illinois and Columbus, Ohio—cities big and small—are learning to live in a smart city, you could say Sameer Sharma lives it, period. As Intel’s global general manager of IoT (New Markets), Sharma and his team focus full time on smart cities and intelligent transportation. It’s the kind of work that’s changing the world.
"My recommendation to smaller cities is that you’ve got to think big—be ambitious with the goals you’re setting—but start small" said Sameer Sharma.GETTY
But not all of it involves changing technology. In many cases, the more fundamental and essential work centers on changing attitudes—and convincing those in smaller urban areas that smart technology can keep their cities viable, livable and competitive on the global stage. It’s work Sharma clearly relishes, as his enthusiasm for evangelizing the smart city model is palpable.
Forbes Insights sat down with Sharma to hear him explain why, and how, cities can go about deploying intelligent technology.
Forbes Insights: For metro areas smaller than London, Chicago or Singapore—say, 500,000 residents or less—what are some logical areas to begin with smart city technology? Which problems are worth addressing?
Sameer Sharma: We always try to look at common themes for cities across the globe, big and small. The top three pain points are public safety—“I want my citizens to feel safe and be safe”—mobility—“I’m pressed for time and I want to be able to move easily from one point to another”—and sustainability—“I want to ensure basics like clean air and clean water.”
So that’s a good place to start. When you start to roll up your sleeves and develop a smart city plan for a specific city, that’s when you can make specific recommendations: a certain city may have more of an issue with air quality and pollution than another.
Does there need to be an attitude shift before a technology shift when it comes to deploying intelligent technology in smaller cities?
My recommendation to smaller cities is that you’ve got to think big—be ambitious with the goals you’re setting—but start small. Because your decisions may be simpler and your stakeholder group will be smaller, it may be much easier to get started—but move fast. These guidelines work at a city level but are quite applicable at a national level as well…smaller countries are thinking of this as a way to attract global technology, human capital and economic activity.
The possibilities for motion-based LED lighting, closed-circuit cameras, intelligent signs and more are exciting. But what’s the case for return on investment in making these improvements?
I think of two vectors—the ROI to city officials and those running cities, and even more important, the ROI to the citizens. Cities need more efficiency: “How can we do more with a limited budget, and make things more efficient?” LED light conversion pays for itself, but you can actually take it further and turn it into a valuable resource. We’ve been working with GE CityIQ, for example, to install nodes on streetlight poles that improve public safety and enhance livability. For us, it’s all about creating an ecosystem. It’s not just converting the light from halogen to LED; it goes much further. Now you can have radio, camera and sensors with an artificial intelligence (AI) engine built right in to perform real-time analytics and give insights.
So how do you translate and communicate ROI to everyday citizens?
As a citizen, the question is, how will it help me? I’ve asked this of my team: “What is it we don’t have enough of in our lives?” And the answer was obvious: Not enough time to get things done at work or home or run errands. We’ve got to make an emotional connection as to how intelligent technology will help people in the city. Our research with an independent vendor concluded that the average citizen can save an average of 125 hours every year when smart city technologies are deployed to an optimal point. Now, this sort of data point can help us make a connection to the heart to really get people onboard. For example, with the time saved, you can pursue your passion, take a vacation or spend more time with your family.
If the leaders of smaller cities say, “We don’t have the funding, and this is going to cost too much,” what might the most powerful counterarguments be?
I tell cities, “You’re in a global competition for talent and citizens.” Smart city investments are about livability and competitiveness of your city—and it needs to become a fundamental strategic initiative.
Many smaller cities in the U.S. are declining in population, which is a big challenge for them. But some cities have woken up to this and are saying, this is not acceptable, and we need to attract business investment and talent. Pittsburgh went from being the heart of the Steel Belt, to the heart of the Rust Belt, to making an incredible comeback. Quite simply, a city without citizens does not exist.
We’re also doing it for the benefit of the coming generations—millennials and their kids. Status quo is not acceptable for them.
What have you seen from your viewpoint that is the most exciting, or holds the most potential, in so far as smart city technology goes, especially for smaller urban areas?
We’re already in the middle of a massive inflection point where AI, computer vision, edge computing and 5G are coming together. And that’s not a coincidence if you look at Moore’s Law. I want to be clear: Human creativity has always been there. It’s just a question of when the tools and technologies are there. And now, we can implement these ideas at economic scale.
The most exciting thing is the intelligence and insights we’ll get from the data—we’re talking 16.5 zettabytes of data every year by 2020 (the equivalent of 1,000 billion gigabytes). We lose the sense of these large numbers, but if you could imagine the coffee in your cup as one gigabyte, this is enough data to fill the entire Great Wall of China.
Looking ahead a generation from now, what will the smartest smart cities be like? And how will they make the biggest differences in people’s lives?
If we do the tech work right, the biggest impact will be invisible: You won’t even need to interact with the tech because it will be so intuitive. And it will go from being smart to intelligent. A lot of the services will be much more autonomous. And the world we’ll leave for our kids will be one where they are happier, less stressed and able to reach their full potential.
I am fortunate to work at a company that gives us the luxury and entrusts us with the responsibility of working on such world-changing stuff!
Any items on your future-looking smart cities wish list?
Happier people—that is the top item on my wish list. We will also have more autonomous cars and maybe even flying taxis. We are only limited by our imagination. My son’s ambition is to invent time travel. I don’t tell him it’s impossible. I tell him to figure out how to do it. So many things we thought were impossible have become possible—and a daily reality in our lives!