Why smart cities are taking over

Smart city
By Eleanor O'Neill, CA Today

8 November 2016

Making our urban spaces 'smarter' is an initiative slowly gaining traction around the world, according to research by Business Insider (BI) Intelligence.

The report has found that the issues of technology procurement, budget constraints and expert shortages, the key barriers to 'smart city' development, are seeing improvement on an international scale.

'Smart cities' use the Internet of Things (IoT) as a platform for data collection and analysis to improve efficiency and infrastructure. For example, sensors in traffic lights would indicate periods of heavy congestion on certain routes and could then, theoretically, update road signs in order to divert vehicles to alternatives.

This data could then also be used in future decision-making processes like building new roads, enforcing speed limit restrictions or introducing better public transport alternatives.

Smart cities hold enormous potential for IoT solutions, driving technology and innovation. EY has predicted a rapid urbanisation growth by 2050 and cite smart cities as the key factor in resilience for economic growth and competitiveness in the second half of the 21st century.

Cyber cities

Most projects are still in the early phases of effectively implementing IoT devices and have yet to develop the necessary data processing and analysis tools that can turn massive amounts of data into a real-time view of a city's activity and operations.

However, there are several promising and ambitious initiatives already being put into place:

  • Code for America: Works with technology companies and local governments to adapt and deliver better services. In Honolulu and Boston, users can 'adopt' city property through their programme so that the public resources normally used to tend to them can be directed elsewhere.
  • Pay As You Throw (PAYT): A high-tech waste management system concept that encourages people to recycle more and waste less by imposing charges on households with excessive waste. Various prorames have been instigated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) across 109 communities in the US.
  • Urbanflow: A city-wide operating system that utilises kiosks to display real-time information on traffic, weather and local news. A joint effort of Nordkapp and Urbanscale is looking to implement this kind of system in Helsinki, Finland to the benefit of tourism and reactive development.
  • Object Tracking/Processing Unit: A fully automated urban surveillance system currently operating in Kolkata, India. The network uses CCTV technology to analyse visual patterns and alert law enforcement to crimes in progress.
  • Solaroad: Incorporates solar panels into Amsterdam's many bike paths, giving the approximately 250 miles of road a secondary purpose generating energy for distribution throughout the grid.

Projects for smart urbanisation are widely shaped by local and regional socio-economic needs. This has led cities in different parts of the world to utilise similar IoT technologies in a wide array of different cases.

Global initiatives

In the EU, environmental sustainability goals are the focus in driving cities to rapidly implement IoT technologies for reducing fossil fuel emissions. There are 120 automatic air pollution monitoring systems scattered throughout the UK that take readings every hour.

Cities in Central and South America, on the other hand, are using smart cities solutions to improve their infrastructure in the face of extreme weather events like hurricanes and tropical storms.

Even in Africa, where similar projects have historically found it difficult to launch, new networking technologies like Low Power Wide Area Networks and next-generation 5G networks are providing the connectivity needed to get more smart city initiatives off the ground.

Unique barriers to smart city development, like data privacy concerns in the EU and a lack of federal support in the US, exists region by region and are contributing to the slow growth of the industry.

However, the research from EY and BI intelligence suggests that the eventual integration of smart solutions to cities throughout the world is inevitable.


  • Technology

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