Smart cities of the future – intelligent organisms that provide exactly what their citizens need?

Cities across the globe are using digital technologies to improve services. But how will we deal with privacy and risk management?
Industries: Smart City
Trends: IoT
  • How smart cities and their smart apps can help protect the environment
  • Smart infrastructure – laying the foundations for smart cities of the future
  • From hyperloops to air pods – smart mobility keeps cities moving
  • Smart buildings streamline building management and improve employee well being
  • Boosting energy efficiency through smart grids
  • Is a digital government a better government?
  • The controversial transition to digital citizenship
  • Smart economy as a critical engine for economic growth
  • What will cities of the future look like?
  • What about the ethical side of smart cities?

A smart city can be compared to a human body – an intelligent organism, with technology being its nervous system, gathering sensory input and reacting to our needs. The smart city of the future will dynamically adjust its infrastructure and provide exactly what its citizens need.

The IoT would be its eyes, ears and nose, with ICT representing its nerve fibres. The nourishment the smart city needs to function consists of real-time data, collected from people and devices and analysed to monitor and manage mobility, water supply networks, power plants, and waste disposal. In the smart city of the future, we’ll see sensors everywhere, enabling responsive infrastructure, buildings, and traffic systems that can react to changing circumstances in real time.

How smart cities and their smart apps can help protect the environment

Some of the main drivers behind the emergence of smart and sustainable cities are the need to reduce our carbon footprint, improved waste management, increase energy efficiency, and streamline traffic conditions. Smart applications that contribute to environmental improvements include those aimed at managing mobility, energy, water, and waste. Fewer emissions can, for instance, be achieved by building automation systems and real-time public transit information. Mobility and energy saving applications can in turn improve air quality, while waste reduction can be achieved by digital tracking and payment for waste disposal.

In Finland, the Personal Carbon Trading (PCT) Scheme was launched to promote the transition from private car usage to more sustainable alternatives like public transportation or car pooling. The CitiCAP app calculates your personal weekly emission budget and suggests lower emission options. And in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, university students have developed a new feature for the Parking Gothenburg app that shows real-time air pollution as a cloud above the city. Before travelling, you can consult the app to check the air pollution cloud and base your mode of transportation on the severity of the pollution in a particular area.

In Toronto, residents are using an app to streamline waste collection. The TOwaste app offers access to collection schedules, as well as information about donation centres, drop-off depots, and guidance on the safe and sustainable disposal of over 2,000 different items. In Egypt, people use a similar app for waste management. The E-Tadweer app, launched by the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Communications, was specifically developed for the appropriate disposal of electronic waste. It helps residents to reduce consumption of electronic devices and aims to prevent old computers, mobile phones, or tablets ending up in general waste bins. Residents can also receive discount vouchers when buying appliances from companies supporting the app.

There are various ways to help residents to decrease energy usage as well. Boston-based startup Sense, for instance, has developed a home energy app that monitors the energy usage of electrical devices. The app uses machine learning tech to provide real-time insights and recommendations on how to curb energy consumption. The app can also notify you when a device requires maintenance or repairs.

In 2018, the South African city of Cape Town experienced an extreme drought and was nearing ‘Day Zero’ – the day when it would have become the first major city in the world to run out of water. Three years prior, Thinus Booysen, associate professor at the University of Stellenbosch’s Faculty of Engineering, had created a device to help homeowners lower their energy usage. In 2018, he adapted the device to measure household water usage in real time, every minute. The device – aptly named Count Dropula – can be connected to an app so that the user can receive a text message or email notification when there’s a spike in water usage.

Smart infrastructure – laying the foundations for smart cities of the future

In a smart city with smart infrastructure, you’ll find sensor technology embedded in almost every imaginable piece of equipment. This sensor tech is connected to the IoT, enabling real-time data gathering and analysis. The information is translated into meaningful, actionable information, enabling better informed decisions about the structural health and maintenance of infrastructure. Smart, responsive infrastructure can respond to changing circumstances in real time, leading to improved operational efficiency and less downtime.

The government of Singapore, for example, is converting street lighting into an interconnected network of wireless sensors, so that data can be collected and analysed at a granular level to gain better insight into priorities for urban development. Apart from data on street lighting, the sensors also provide information on air quality and traffic volumes. For a more centralised approach to management and operations, government departments in the Punggol Digital district work with businesses and academics to create a new digital platform for the integration of various smart city solutions, such as car park management, district cooling, and pneumatic waste conveyance.

In Syracuse, New York, a network of smart streetlights will help the city with their sustainability efforts and simultaneously provides a framework for the implementation of various smart city projects. Conventional streetlights will be replaced by LED versions, enabling communication across a network and allowing for a more efficient lighting management. The system will also be able to provide city officials with valuable information about operations or maintenance issues, and allow for the collection and analysing of data from the streets – such as vehicle traffic or pedestrian volumes.

In the UK, researchers from Lancaster University’s Department of Engineering are involved in the Live Labs Project, which will test wireless communication sensors, smart materials, and energy generation and storage. The idea is to integrate advanced technologies into smart roads to enable passing vehicles to generate power using piezoelectricity and hydromechanical dynamics. The electricity generated will be stored in roadside batteries and used to power traffic signage, street lighting, and air pollution monitors. The smart roads will also generate valuable data on traffic flows, vehicle speeds, and the types of vehicles travelling along the roads.

From hyperloops to air pods – smart mobility keeps cities moving

Smart mobility is the circulatory system of the smart city. It automatically accommodates the transportation requirements of its citizens and visitors and leads to improved experiences and better quality of life. Smart mobility consists of smart infrastructure, adaptive public transit, self-service bikes, car-pooling networks, and connected autonomous vehicles that communicate with parking meters and charging docks. It means that streets will be fitted with sensor tech to track road data, vehicle data, and citizen smartphone data to gain insights on road conditions and traffic flow patterns. The Netherlands, for instance, already uses real-time traffic monitoring systems to enable information broadcasts about travel times, helping road users decide on the best routes to take.

The city of Barcelona is building a nearly 50 km-long, high-tech underground metro. Once completed, Line 9 of Metro Barcelona will boast automated, driverless trains, speeding passengers to their destinations using smart mobility and control solutions. The sophisticated metro line will be the longest in Europe and provide connections with long-distance train stations, the airport, and various other transportation options.

In the city of Columbus, Ohio, two transportation pilot projects are underway as part of a Smart Cities challenge. Projects include an on-demand transit service for pregnant women and customised transportation for people with disabilities or dementia. The city is also installing motion-sensitive LED street lights, mobility kiosks, connected vehicle technology, a bus rapid-transit system, self-driving shuttles, and digital kiosks that provide Wi-Fi access, trip-planning, emergency calling, and social services.

The UAE’s most impressive transportation project is, without a doubt, the Hyperloop. It’s first 10 km will be operational this year, reducing the journey time between Dubai and Abu Dhabi from one hour by car to a mere 12 minutes. In Dubai, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), in collaboration with BeemCar, is also planning the development of sky pods – capsules suspended from steel cables that travel between the city’s stations by air. The city envisions a quarter of its journeys to be managed by autonomous vehicles by 2030. Earlier this year, the RTA began piloting the small Unibike (for two passengers) and the larger Unicar (for longer journeys). Both will travel autonomously and – besides the footprint of their stations – use almost no ground space. The pods will offer fast, reliable, clean, and efficient transportation.

Smart buildings streamline building management and improve employee wellbeing

Smart buildings provide improved user experiences and healthy indoor environments. They contain sophisticated building automation systems and advanced controls for high-tech equipment. Smart buildings are fitted with sensor tech to gather data about how the building is operating and being used. Smart buildings provide their occupants with apps to adjust indoor lighting and heating/cooling, book meeting rooms or order lunch at the office canteen. In the future, smart buildings will be built with self-repairing materials, run on smart grid systems, and fitted with renewable energy sources like solar windows.

According to Intel, its new office in Israel is the smartest building in the world. The 11-storey, 74,000-square-metre PTK1-building in Petach Tikva took three years to build and hosts 2,000 employees in ICT, communication, cybersecurity, and AI. The building was created with the employee experience in mind, using AI to encourage creativity and teamwork. The building is fitted with no less than 14,000 sensors that monitor and control lighting, ventilation, temperature, meeting room availability, parking, and many other services and systems, and generate up to 100 terabytes of data daily. This information is analysed in real-time, after which AI makes decisions and adjustments to the various systems.

In the United Arab Emirates, Bee’ah, the Middle East’s leading integrated environmental, recycling & waste management company, has announced that its new headquarters will become the first fully-integrated AI office building in the UAE and one of the smartest buildings in the world. The new headquarters will boast a wide range of smart building and artificial intelligence solutions. Think digital workspaces, smart back-office integration, intelligent lobby-visitor management, and smart security. AI will play an important role in the building’s management systems, and prominently feature across functions like administration, HR, procurement, and customer care.

Boosting energy efficiency through smart grids

The future of energy is as much about conserving power as it is about generating and storing it. The electricity networks of our future smart cities will consist mainly of renewable energy. The IoT and ICT enable the intelligent balancing of energy consumption and production, also known as the smart grid. A smart grid combines multiple technologies, such as smart meters and devices with sensors, into one effective system. This system monitors and collects data about energy consumption, improving the functionality of the grid. Eventually this will, for instance, enable smart washing machines to decide to do the laundry when electricity rates are low.

The city of Helsinki has produced a semantic 3D city model that is used as a basis for the Helsinki Energy and Climate Atlas 3D map application. The 3D model contains calculated energy-related data on city buildings, which enables energy analyses, simulations, building assessments, and can identify energy efficiency improvements. As part of the city’s goal to become carbon neutral, the City’s energy company is working on reducing heating emissions by making use of smart grids, replacing existing outdoor lighting with energy-efficient alternatives, switching to renewable electricity production, and using wind and thermal energy, and waste heat.

In Denmark, the EnergyLab Nordhavn is nearing completion. This smart energy lighthouse project will integrate all available energy forms in the city and its efforts will mainly be concentrated around Nordhavn, Copenhagen’s newly revamped harbour neighbourhood, an emerging district designed to become the world’s foremost smart energy laboratory. Its heating and smart grid integration shows that heat and power, as well as electric transport and energy-efficient buildings, can be integrated into one smart, optimised, and flexible energy system. The aim of the city of Copenhagen is to become the first carbon-neutral capital in the world by 2025.

Is a digital government a better government?

Smart governance – in which digital technology like smart algorithms, the IoT, blockchain, and big data analytics are implemented – enables cities around the globe to become increasingly citizen-centric, progressive, effective, and transparent. Smart governance enables government officials to effectively coordinate across different sectors, agencies, and departments. It gives leaders access to real-time data, enables the sharing of information, and the implementation of policies that are effective for society as a whole. This, in turn, leads to improvements in resource management, education, economic infrastructure, telecommunication, healthcare, security, and transportation.

Dubai’s transition to a digital city is facilitated by DubaiNow, a Smart Dubai initiative. With the DubaiNow app, residents can search for information on businesses and transportation, renew their vehicle licences, pay their utility bills, and report violations. The goal of the Dubai paperless strategy, which was launched in the beginning of 2018, is to digitise all transactions between the government and its citizens and become 100 per cent paperless by the end of 2021.

In Singapore, Smart Nation planners want to take the island nation’s already extensively digitised service delivery to the next level in order to meet the increasing needs and expectations of its citizens. This will involve an extensive overhaul of its existing processes and IT systems, using a new digital platform called CODEX (Core Operations, Development Environment and eXchange). The new platform will help the government with its transition to a more centralised approach to service delivery, enabling the public and private sector to collaborate with the goal to develop more user-centric citizen services.

The controversial transition to digital citizenship

Digital citizenship is a crucial component of real digital transformation and enables citizens to exercise their democratic rights. Cities around the world are harnessing the power of technology to address the needs of their citizens with greater speed, efficiency, and relevance. Technology like the IoT, AI, biometrics, big data, virtual & augmented reality applications, and citizen-centred platforms enables the creation of ‘one-stop-shops’ for information and service delivery. This, in turn, leads to better community engagement and more resilient, more productive, and healthier communities.

Over the past three years, as part of DECODE, pilot projects in Barcelona and Amsterdam have used advanced technology to enable citizens to decide how, with whom, and on what terms they share their personal information. Technologies used include advanced cryptography and attribute-based credentials, with which citizens can carry out tasks with the smallest possible risk of compromising their privacy. These tasks include logging into local social network sites with greater control over what data is shared and why, and using a simple app for signing political petitions or proving your identity without having to reveal sensitive information.

Singapore, as part of a series of Smart Nation projects, is providing citizens with a crypto-based mobile digital identity that can be used for private sector transactions, as well as government transactions. The aim of this national digital identity is to enable citizens to access various digital services without having to remember multiple login details. It also creates a secure digital ecosystem, in which there can be an uninterrupted flow of information and services between systems, organisations, and even countries. The goal is to catalyse the digitalisation of industry and the development of additional digital services, and increase government-citizen co-creation.

And the French government is rolling out a mandatory digital ID program for its citizens called Alicem (certified online authentication on mobile) that uses facial recognition technology – a European first. “An ID will be created through a one-time enrolment that works by comparing a user’s photo in their biometric passport to a selfie video taken on the app that will capture expressions, movements and angles. The phone and the passport will communicate through their embedded chips”, Bloomberg reports. Thereafter, the user is able to access various public services without the need for further ID verification. France insists that footage used will be erased within seconds after registration.

Smart economy as a critical engine for economic growth

A smart economy is characterised by a digitalised financial infrastructure and decentralised data. Technological advances are set to revolutionise entire economies in the next few years, as the IoT, artificial intelligence, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, 5G, and widespread automation usher in a transformation in industrial and commercial processes. These developments will lead to the creation of more diversified, increasingly efficient, and highly innovative economies.

The digital economic development in China, for instance, has become a key driver of the national economy. This has been made possible by the explosive growth of Chinese tech companies, international collaboration, and government policies that support digital economic development. Furthermore, China continues to advance the construction of the digital Silk Road, in a joint venture with 16 other countries.

With the digital economy being a key pillar of Singapore’s Smart Nation goals, the island nation has rolled out transformation maps across all industries to encourage companies to ‘go digital’. And as the economy increasingly embraces technology, workers are also nudged to develop new skills. The Singapore government has put various measures in place, including investments in digital infrastructure like an open and inclusive 5G ecosystem.

The Metropolitan Government in Seoul is planning to solve urban problems by establishing a ‘cooperation system’ based on the technologies of private companies. This will enable small and medium-sized companies to participate in smart city-related business, leading to the creation of an industrial smart city ecology. Experts and citizens alike are encouraged to share smart city initiatives and ideas, and companies will weigh in with solutions that will then be evaluated by experts to see if the ideas are commercially viable.

What will cities of the future look like?

Finding alternative habitats is becoming an increasingly important task for countries across the globe. Due to climate change, sea levels are expected to rise, and large parts of the world are likely to be submerged by the end of the century. We could build high-tech vertical, living structures, hurricane-proof floating homes, or build entire cities underground – eliminating the need for heating and cooling systems, and shielding us from the elements. Some experts say that we might even be creating underwater communities in the future. Tech giants like SpaceX, however, are taking things a huge step further and are even looking into colonising space.

Approximately 100 km from Tokyo, at the base of Mount Fuji, Toyota is building a 175-acre smart city. This ‘city of the future’ is envisioned to function as a testing ground for technologies like artificial intelligence, autonomous driving technology, smart home tech, and robotics, and will be home to a starting population of 2,000, consisting mainly of Toyota employees and their families, as well as scientists, retailers, and retired couples, who will test and develop these technologies. The city will be named Woven City and will have buildings mainly constructed of wood, use power sources like solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells, while its building will mainly be constructed of wood, using robotic production methods. Building a complete city from the ground up is a unique opportunity to develop future technologies, including a digital operating system for the infrastructure. With people, buildings, and vehicles all connected and communicating with each other through data and sensors, we will be able to test connected AI technology, in both the virtual and physical realms, maximising its potential,” according to Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda.

And in Saudi Arabia, the mega city state of Neom – located deep in a desert bordering the Red Sea and 33 times the size of New York City – will feature flying taxis, robot maids, glow-in-the-dark-sand on its beaches, an artificial moon lighting up its night skies, artificial rain through cloud seeding technology, holographic teachers, and even a Jurassic Park-style island with robot dinosaurs. The high-tech dream city is to be populated with technology startups, rich investors, and global vacationers. Other, more dystopian-sounding plans for this futuristic city include 24/7 government surveillance and the creation of human gene-editing clinics. Things have however not gone as planned by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The government’s efforts to force the Huwaitat tribe to make way for the futuristic city has led to protests with people being arrested and some fleeing the country.

What about the ethical side of smart cities?

In many ways, people are no longer separate from technology. It is, therefore, important to keep an eye on the moral side of technological developments. We need to philosophise about the implications for the world of tomorrow and ensure we take important ethical considerations into account. We need to determine our boundaries and voice our opinions about how people and machines should work together. What will happen to our individual rights and how will we deal with privacy and risk management?

Around the globe, city after city is seeking to become smarter by using networked, digital technologies to improve city services and systems and control infrastructures. And while improved efficiency and even lower mortality are potential outcomes, smart city initiatives are primarily driven by huge corporations. The rollout and use of these technologies involves increased surveillance and raises several ethical issues as it poses risks to human rights and civil liberties. Smart city technologies are often procured and implemented without the citizens’ consent. As services are becoming increasingly digitalised, the ethics embedded in the code needs to become a focus area, says Milena Pribic, a researcher at IBM. Accountability and algorithmic transparency should become crucial in our future networked cities, and city governments will need to take a more active role in collaborating with all stakeholders to develop inclusive and just smart cities.

Industries: Smart City
Trends: IoT
We’re in the midst of a technological revolution and the trends, technologies, and innovations to look out for are all game-changers. They bring competitive advantages, increase the effectiveness of operations, make our daily lives more efficient, improve healthcare, and significantly change the landscape and beyond.

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