Imagine the smart city of the future, fueled by IoT applications and predictive analytics. That vision isn’t far away; in fact, it’s already here in some cities.
In the past decade or so, young workers have rejected suburbia in favor of places where they can ride their bikes to work and shop locally. Such access is a major reason that urban populations grew more than suburban populations for the first half of this decade, according to the Brookings Institution.
Although the trend towards urbanization has dipped a bit as millennials hit their 30s, cities are the future. Approximately 54 percent of the world’s population is urbanized today, and the figure could jump as high as 90 percent later this century, according to The New York Times. Cities realize that they are in a race to attract young workers by offering tech amenities like IoT applications and predictive analytics.
What Is a Smart City?
A smart city utilizes digital technology to measure data related to how a city operates. Ideally, a smart city uses such data to improve quality of life for its citizens by limiting traffic, making public transportation more efficient and even providing alerts when there are long lines at museums.
China’s Bold Lead in Asia
China leads the world with some 500 smart city pilot projects, according to The Economic Times. The Chinese government began development of these cities in 2012, encouraging the use of IoT applications and artificial intelligence.
The fruits of that labor are already apparent. In Hangzou, for instance, the “City Brain,” an AI system installed in 2016, tracks crime and traffic and the movements of its citizens. According to New Scientist, car accidents, traffic and crime have all fallen since the system went live. The City Brain can identify criminals and adjust traffic lights to avoid traffic congestion.
While Shanghai and Beijing are tech hubs, citizens in various Chinese cities can board trains and enter buildings merely by flashing their faces for facial recognition systems, according to MIT Technology Review. One enterprising KFC is even letting customers purchase fried chicken via facial recognition, per The Guardian.
China’s not the only leader in Asia. In a 2017 Juniper Research survey, Singapore was voted the world’s smartest city in part because it employed “smart, connected traffic solutions,” which allows Singaporeans to access traffic and parking data online.
In Europe, meanwhile, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Barcelona lead the continent.
Amsterdam employs dynamic traffic management and has used data to help garbage trucks make fewer runs. It has also replaced most of its traditional parking meters with pay-by-phone apps. In addition, the city has a program called Beautiful Noise that gleans data from posts on Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. Amsterdam uses such data to send out alerts about public transit delays and queues at museums that people are complaining about, according to MIT Sloan Management Review.
In Copenhagen, meanwhile, the city’s Copenhagen Solutions Lab unifies all the city’s data projects. The city plans to use data-network infrastructure to connect parking systems, smart meters, traffic lights and charging stations to help citizens find parking spaces quickly and cut down on carbon emissions.
In Barcelona, sensors have cut the amount of water that city parks use and have made buses more efficient, according to The Financial Times.
America’s Smartest Cities
In America, the progress of smart cities has been comparatively slow. Among the leaders is San Francisco, which has articulated a vision for city-run transportation options that aim to alleviate the city’s world-class traffic problems. In 2016, the city earmarked $11 million to establish a “transportation as a platform” service. One component is a vision of shared autonomous vehicles that will reduce the need for car ownership and encourage carpooling, according to the Juniper Research survey.
The Urban Future
Such transformations are occurring all over the world. One potential game-changing technology is 5G, the high-speed wireless network, which will make broadband-speed internet access ubiquitous. With the mainstream adoption of 5G looming in the 2020s, the stakes will be higher for urban areas everywhere to join the “smart cities” list.