On a scale from 1 to 10, how happy are you with the living conditions in your city? What’s the impact of urbanization, population density, and pollution in your community?
Depending on your answers, you might be amongst those of us who dream of an intelligent living space where inhabitants, technology, and nature coexist in perfect harmony.
That’s more or less the concept behind a smart city. It’s a model of efficiency, sustainability, and sophistication where people enjoy advanced infrastructure and high quality of life.
Imagine a mass-transport system where you’re never stuck in traffic, thanks to driverless trains, buses, and taxis taking cues from an all-seeing eye.
Or green buildings inter-connected by elevated automated walkways that provide easy access to everyone regardless of age, health, and disabilities.
Or robots handling law enforcement roles empowered by CCTV cameras 24/7 — ok, ok, that one sounds scary.
You may be excited or concerned about the idea of smart cities. Either way, many questions are left open about their feasibility and our urban future.
The Reality of Smart Cities
Smart cities are ambitious undertakings, to say the least, and the possibility of them being part of our lives in obvious forms may sound utopic.
But visionary architects and urban planners around the world work hard to make the fantasy come true, backed by local governments and innovative tech companies. Still, they face huge obstacles.
First off, there is a need to rethink and redo. This includes overcoming urban planning limitations; finding the budget to upgrade or replace existing infrastructure that may be out of character with a smart city’s physical plans; as well as drafting and implementing new regulations that account for unprecedented scenarios.
There are technological considerations too. IoT sensors must capture precise data to inform decisions in real time — some of which are vital for people’s well-being and safety. Telecommunications networks require sufficient capacity to accommodate millions and millions of interconnected things. Smooth interactions between devices, applications, and users are also fundamental for systems to operate.
Then what about citizens’ views and preferences? Are we all ready for a brave new world where added convenience could turn intimidating and affect our privacy?
Smart City Applications
Bearing in mind their pros and cons, smart city technologies and applications are already being designed and launched — at least to some extent. Let’s look at a few of them.
- Sensors and cameras installed at the city’s trash collection sites alert a central server when the level of trash reaches a critical point.
- Trash collection teams are automatically dispatched to collect and carry out waste management tasks.
- Sensors track the actual use of lighting in different areas at specific times to optimize distribution and save energy.
- Lights can be dimmed in areas that are not occupied and brightened when people are detected.
- Sensors embedded into parking spaces help drivers locate vacant locations and reduce stress.
- Usage and time spent are recorded, and the information transmitted to a centralized parking management system.
- Algorithms, cameras, and sensors help predict traffic flow, prevent congestion, and curb air pollution.
- Best roads for ambulances, police vehicles and firetrucks are identified during emergencies, while other drivers are alerted.
- Sensors monitor water level, pressure, and/or quality at swimming pools, dams, reservoirs, lakes, and other bodies of water.
- Water management systems identify sources of chemical leaks to prevent environmental disasters.
Smart cities leave nobody indifferent. It’s a utopian vision for many, a near-future reality for some, and a nightmare for others. No matter the camp you are on, the address of the future slowly but steadily opens its doors with new applications in spite of challenges.