Are we heading toward the fourth industrial revolution, or are we already inside it?
It’s been over a century since our second industrial revolution, where Henry Ford made the moving assembly line a manufacturing standard. And, depending on who you ask, we entered our third industrial revolution when manufacturing began shifting to digital practices just a few years ago.
Given our timeline through history, you might predict we’re about 90+ years away from another industrial revolution, yet the Internet of Things (IoT) appears to be heading that way right now. In fact, we may already be there.
What is the IoT?
Simply put, the IoT is the collaboration of internet-connected devices that collect and trade information between each other using integrated sensors.
For example, if you have a smart thermostat in your home or a home camera system you can monitor from your smart phone, you are using a small-scale IoT.
These devices aren’t exactly new, having existed for several years now. But each year, we see an uptick in purchases and usage of IoT devices, with 2017 being slated as the breakout year for smart home technology.
But what happens when IoT is no longer reserved for individuals and becomes part of public interest?
The Future of Cities with IoT
It’s predicted that by the year 2020, the current number of IoT devices will have tripled, rising to over 34 billion devices. It’s expected that the IoT industry will have generated upwards of $6 trillion within the next five years alone. The government will become the second largest user of IoT devices, trailing only behind businesses.
If these predictions become reality, big infrastructure, economic, and social changes are coming soon to a city near you. And it won’t take us one hundred years to get there.
There’s an enormous mountain of data being generated every second of every day, and the IoT will only build it quicker. While there will always be a need to collect data, it’s even more important for businesses and government to learn how to monetise it.
Here’s what an IoT metropolis could look like in the (very) near future:
First come, first served parking will be a thing of the past
If Paris’s Autolib program is any indication of what’s to come from the IoT movement, one of city living’s biggest frustrations might cease to exist.
In 2011, Paris debuted an electric car sharing initiative called Autolib that has now grown into a fleet of 3,000 automobiles. Each vehicle is tracked via GPS, and drivers can reserve parking spaces in advance using the car’s sophisticated dashboard controls.
London has engaged in smart parking testing that allows drivers to secure a parking spot without a lengthy search-and-find. In addition, the city has also begun its own electric car sharing program similar to Autolib, and plans on expanding the number of vehicles and charging stations in the near future.
As a result, drivers can spend less time parking and more time on the important things. In addition, a quick parking job cuts back on air pollution and traffic congestion. It’s a win/win for everyone.
Electricity will be generated more effectively
Traditionally, power companies generate energy based on estimation and trends. But with an IoT-connected city, it’s nobody’s guessing game.
In the past, city planners would estimate power needs based on population density, square miles, and other related factors – but according to sustainability expert John Picard, this is neither accurate nor efficient.
Instead, Picard predicts the IoT movement will shift us towards a demand-based model that allows us to determine the actual amount of power or other resources we need at any given moment.
Daily commutes will be more efficient and productive
Driverless cars were once a wild impossibility just years prior. Even when Google unveiled a new prototype in May 2014 that didn’t include a steering wheel or gas pedal, people were still skeptical (and some were downright in denial) that this was indeed happening.
That was over three years ago. Autonomous driving technology continues to advance at lightning pace, so much so that Nissan has already gone on record to say it plans to release its first driverless car to consumers by the year 2020.
What this means for city dwellers and commuters is less traffic congestion, fewer automobile accidents, and better use of your commute time. Imagine how much more you could do in your day to have an extra 15, 30, or even 60 minutes going to and from work that would otherwise be spent behind the wheel.
Nissan is getting closer to a solution for autonomous vehicles, and hopes that one day its models will be able to drive, park, and even refuel themselves. Which means you’ll be able to mark a few more tasks off your to-do list.
Waiting on the bus will exist only in your memories.
The city of Manchester in England was granted £10 million in the CityVerve project to develop and implement IoT tech in the urban setting. Some of these funds are being used to construct smart bus stops that will notify drivers when a passenger is waiting.
If the project is successful, Manchester’s actions could shape the blueprint for smart cities across the globe.
Airspace will become the new public space.
While we may never create flying cars, another airborne vehicle is already making waves as a potential delivery and communication system.
City planners are now engaged in how to regulate airspace to drones, and it’s causing quite a few complications.
If drones become a part of everyday society in urban areas, city planners and developers face certain issues in creating new infrastructure and protecting existing structures:
- What is the safest operating height?
- Should there be designated launch and landing spots?
- How do we create designated flight paths, if at all?
- How close should drones be able to come to people, animals, buildings, and other objects?
- Should the pilot require a license?
Drones have the ability to deliver, surveil, monitor, film, and photograph, but some view the technology as more disruptive than innovative.
However, if drones continue on its path to widespread reality (and it certainly looks like it will), city officials will have no choice but to incorporate this technology into their development plans.
Though it sounds like a detailed plot of a brilliant sci-fi movie or novel, all of these things and more are happening around us. They just aren’t quite ready for us to see them.
As the old saying goes, “the future is now.” And it’s never been truer. Is it for better? Is it for worse? Only time will tell.