What does it take to be called a smart city?

What does it take to be called a smart city?
Photo: Mikes Photos, Pixabay

A smart city is a city that combines information and communication technologies (ICT) in its daily operations, particularly when it comes to managing natural resources. Apart from resource management, the smart city concept applies to increasing efficiency, assisting community activities, and improving public services and welfare. The idea behind an intelligent city involves leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which is basically a global network infrastructure that connects all physical devices such as cars, home appliances, etc. These smart devices are embedded with software, electronic hardware, and sensors that enable them to connect and exchange data over an internet connection.

The list of the most popular smart cities in the world include Tokyo and Yokohama in Japan, London in England, New York in America, Seoul in South Korea, and Copenhagen in Denmark. Such cities have implemented the smart city concept to help them perform much more efficiently. They can enhance the performance and quality of urban services such as infrastructure and energy to reduce resource consumption and wastage. While such services are taken care of through technology, other aspects such as maintenance and security are trusted to the city’s inhabitants.

Therefore, by connecting all its IT infrastructure, a smart city gathers collective intelligence from the city’s inhabitants which can then be used to facilitate resource optimisation efforts. Additionally, citizens can also leverage the IT infrastructure as a channel to interact with the city’s authorities. It helps the government take into consideration its citizens’ concerns and suggestions into building a smart city of choice for its inhabitants. Such efforts make a city efficient, hospitable, and sustainable.      

Innovative technologies driving the smart city concept

In recent years, many innovations, solutions, and inventions have been conceptualised and developed within and towards the realisation of smart cities. Below are some of them:

Smart lighting

Smart lighting is a lighting technology that is specifically designed for energy efficiency. Through the use and combination of several automated controls and efficiency tools, a city can be capable of saving a lot of energy. Smart lighting incorporates a broad range of technologies. Some of the most popular features of smart lighting include an ordinary street lamp capable of providing free WiFi signal for public consumption. Automated controls built into the street lamp can also allow the lights to turn on and off automatically, or adjust based on the amount of daylight. Moreover, each street lights’ pole can also be attached with their own IP-address, so that it can be individually controlled from a distance. New lighting, such as LEDs can further save on energy, and there’s even LED technology to send information via light.

Smart kiosks rapid transit

Smart Kiosks Rapid Transit SKRT, are an emerging smart city technology innovation purposely created to manage cumbersome tasks. They are smart city kiosks that provide free WiFi, directions, public transportation information, and public information. These kiosks are expected to be located at bus stops or metro stations. Other services that can be integrated with these kiosks include access to cell-phone charging ports, transportation ticketing, and third-party advertising.  

Smart electric cars

While the idea of electric cars is not too new, the idea of smart electric cars is a fairly new one. Smart electric cars are designed to transport people to their destination in a unique manner. Not only do smart electric cars reduce fuel consumption costs and gas emissions, but they’re also fitted with technology that allows for automatic driving. Through the incorporation of sensors, cameras, and guiding software, smart electric cars will be capable of navigating the road on their own and obey traffic lights accordingly (self-driving cars).

Once deployed, smart electric cars are expected to reduce car accidents significantly – although as it stands they have actually caused a number of accidents and deaths, and there is something to be said about what decisions the cars will be programmed to make in split second decisions (to hit a crowd of pedestrians or to go off a cliff for example) – algorithms originate from a human’s bias, and may have to deal with life or death decisions (you might want to know about the algorithms in your smart car). It’s also possible for these cars to be hacked into and controlled from a distance.   

Smart homes

A smart home is a residence that contains a communication network that allows different appliances and tools within the building to connect over an internet connection. It allows these devices to communicate with one another and allows for them to be remotely accessed, controlled, and monitored through a smartphone or computer. Such devices include security cameras, heating appliances, audio and video systems, etc.  A smart home generally gives the owner security, energy efficiency, convenience, and comfort at all times. Smart homes are becoming incredibly popular and it’s estimated that the global smart home market is expected to reach more than $53 billion USD by 2022.

Parking spot apps

This is a parking system platform complemented with a mobile app. Citizens of Cardiff are already benefiting from this incredible innovation. With this app, a user can reserve a parking spot via a website or a mobile app before reaching their destination. This saves fuel consumption, reduces gas emissions as well as air pollution, and saves the driver the hassle of finding a parking spot. The system will calculate where and when a user can use a parking spot, complete with real-time Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA). 

Smart charging stations for electric vehicles

To welcome the new era that Tesla has helped pioneer, a first-ever IOTA smart charging station has been provided for all electric-based vehicles in the Netherlands. This smart charging station offers no back office and no communication protocol to help operate it. Transactions are conducted directly without the need for a subscription or a card. It works autonomously and takes care of communication and payment with the user. In a digitised future, this technology will fit in perfectly.

Smart sport parks

Smart sport parks are a project that is focused on energy, lights, and community. Through the implementation of green solutions such as solar-powered lamps, city authorities can make sports facilities environmentally friendly. Smart sport parks are aimed at improving energy consumption, while at the same time, educating people about the benefits of saving energy.

Final thoughts

No matter how great the innovations towards achieving smart city status are, the citizens of those smart cities are the most important aspect. For a city to become a smart city, it needs the collective effort of the city’s inhabitants to adopt such innovations that fulfil the city’s goal of becoming a smart city.

That being said, we are optimistic that cities around the world will only get smarter and more sophisticated to improve their citizens’ lives – hopefully. We’re already starting to see self-driving cars. Who knows, perhaps the future is set for flying cars. Of course, there’s also the possibility of such technologies being used to create dystopias by tyrannical governments, but, let us hope for the best.