Using the technology woven into the Internet of Things, smart cities are supplying municipalities around the world with the capacity for rapid innovation. As world population density increases, the need for efficiency and environmental sustainability becomes tantamount.

The constantly increasing flow of people striving to live in cities and capitals and overall population growth require continuous improvements in quality of life. However, it can lead to changes in the environment that are not always for the better. To find a balance, that is to slow down the negative impact on our planet and at the same time meet human needs, the concept of a smart city has been put forward.

What does “smart city” mean?

A smart city is a network of coordinated applications and devices that facilitate efficiency, safety, and sustainability in dense populations. Using the Internet of Things and cloud computing, and backed by powerful analytics, modern cities are gradually transforming to save costs, lower their environmental impact, and find solutions to problems that naturally arise with increasing populations.

Harnessing wireless technology, an information and communication technology (ICT) framework of data-enabled devices sends data to the cloud. Applications then analyze this information to create valuable metrics that can maximize efficiencies in areas like resource management and traffic control.

As citizens go about their daily activities using the adapted technologies around them, for example, mobile devices, cars, and household appliances, their usage rates are sent to the cloud, where governments and other shareholders can harness the information to drive cost savings and sustainability measures. This allows city governments to make smarter choices regarding energy distribution and waste management. It also has the potential to reduce crime and improve traffic safety.

Where does the need for smart cities come from?

From hygiene and safety to resource and waste management, a variety of sectors stand to benefit from efficiencies incorporated into smart cities. Decreasing redundancies, making the best use of space, and tracking conservation efforts all play a role in successfully managing an increasing population.

Cities like Amsterdam, Paris, New York, and many others have already begun incorporating different kinds of smart technology such as:

Smart traffic lights

These combine already existing traditional traffic light technology with artificial intelligence, which helps to manage vehicle and pedestrian traffic intelligently and even reduce emissions by optimizing vehicle travel time.

Smart parking

This technology speaks for itself. Drivers are provided with a tool to help them choose parking slots. Why is it important? It improves the use of available parking space as well as reducing traffic congestion and management costs. Many solutions have been developed in which smart city devices and mobile applications manage the parking of cars.

Smart waste collection

High-speed urbanization, industrial growth, and even the current tendency to sell goods in separate packages all lead to significant amounts of waste produced every single day. The creation of sophisticated and efficient trash collection systems that combine hardware and software has become crucial for modern cities. The implementation of such IoT smart city solutions helps to manage waste and optimize capacity and trash collection routes. People can also learn more about the types of waste they throw away, how it can be recycled, and how to generate less waste, as it’s possible to offer apps that provide all this information.

A primary concern of smart cities is the environmental change already taking place as a result of climate change. In September 2015, 193 countries ratified the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presented at the United Nations. In smart cities, the IoT provides the capability to progress towards and meet these goals in a unified, concerted way that can easily be implemented, measured, and refined over time.

The demand for new architecture and infrastructure

Two people wearing hard hats standing next to wind turbines and solar panels

With a growing population, we see an increased demand for innovation in construction and infrastructure. Just as mobile devices and IoT innovations allow them to implement their vision more efficiently, architects and builders in all major cities are searching for ways to transfer this technological capability into their infrastructures. Doing so reduces construction costs while enhancing their quality and safety.

At the same time, a key component of a smart city technology is a positive social environment for its citizens, so that daily life is improved. Promoting community engagement throughout the design process ensures that spaces are created with the human ecosystem in mind. Builders also stay informed about what innovations can be used to meet the needs of a particular community.

An investment in infrastructure is a necessary step in developing a smart city, and this is seen clearly when looking at architecture. How a city assesses its own needs in terms of the unique population of its citizens will also be a factor, and the diversity of approaches in architecture facilitates the different ways in which humans interact with their environment.

There are many areas with potential for improvement across the board. Some examples include lighting, where the switch to LED bulbs reduces both costs and energy consumption. Smart architecture can be seen in the implementation of tech innovations for elevators and solar panels, enhancing speed and efficiency and thus improving the quality of life for their users. Smart grids will also transform the way energy is distributed, as data from users can be applied to save time and money across the grid. In Amsterdam, for example, this has allowed homes to sell their spare energy back to the grid.

The positive effects of the IoT technology on smart cities

When the secure wireless capability is pervasive, elements of the IoT work seamlessly in concert to integrate information. Internet of Things (IoT) technology is bridging the gap between users and services and improving experiences in a variety of sectors. To put it simply, the Internet of Things is helping smart cities grow, but it often does so by joining forces with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). In this way, data is collected and analyzed, and the information is used to implement initiatives and bring about a digital transformation of people’s daily lives.

By promoting local traffic optimization, for instance, municipalities are able to enhance safety and economic efficiency as well as support tourism, bolster public transportation, and increase environmental sustainability.

In the US, Kansas City has paved the way for other municipalities and companies to implement Internet of Things technology in cities and develop the concept of a smart city. A smart city initiative here was launched in 2015 and started with partnership agreements designed to improve residents’ daily life experiences.

One of the first projects developed in the city was the Smart City corridor, which runs along the two-mile streetcar route. The corridor has become one of the first urban areas in the States to truly embrace the IoT. On the streets of Kansas City, sensors collect information that enables the government to manage the city more efficiently. Maps and dashboards provide real-time data on available parking, traffic loads, car accidents, and the location of streetcars.

Along the streetcar route, at the airport, and on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, there are interactive kiosks that provide tourist information and public safety alerts and show advertisements promoting local businesses. Local denizens probably enjoy free Wi-Fi in the downtown business district the most.

Check out this IoT mobile app solution capable of gathering and analyzing motion data

What is a smart city and IOT?

A hand with a phone surrounded by the icons of industries influenced by IoT

The role of the smart city is to integrate the various moving pieces into a comprehensive experience when it comes to infrastructure and traffic management, water supply, transportation, public safety, and other spheres. The technological components that comprise a smart city permeate every aspect of what it means to live in a human community. The following innovations reveal the possibilities available with the right technology and connectivity.

Sustainable infrastructure for smart cities and IOT

Due to rapid urbanization and the threat of climate change, buildings are increasingly planned with sustainability in mind. This also applies to the development of vehicles like electric and self-driving cars, in terms of ensuring CO2 emissions are kept to a minimum. Applications in architecture include innovations like smart lighting, which turns on only when activated by motion and can often be adjusted in terms of brightness to maximize efficiency.

Smart Buildings and energy efficiency

In the United States, 36% of all electricity and approximately 20% of primary energy are consumed by commercial buildings. They also produce 18% of the country’s CO2 emissions and major greenhouse gases. In New York City alone, buildings are responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. That is why building certification programs like LEED have been increasingly employed to encourage design and construction in line with environmental concerns.

The “whole-building approach” takes in the entire ecosystem of a building, using features in concert with one another to create a cohesive system, as opposed to disparate features. A truly energy-efficient building should not only consider the metrics of energy usage but the people who will be using the building and their needs when they go about their work. This way, space can be maximized for efficiency, which will in turn lessen the demand for energy resources. With this in mind, individual features such as LED lighting and wastewater management can be integrated smoothly into the design of a building.

Smart traffic control and optimization

One of the major challenges in all cities is traffic optimization. With the advent of sensors integrated into pavements, traffic updates can be sent in real time to a central management system in order to analyze trends. Coupled with available historical data, municipalities can use this information to manipulate traffic lights and ease congestion during times of heavy traffic. Such a system is currently being used by the Los Angeles Regional Traffic Management Center to improve local traffic conditions.

Reliable public transport systems for smart cities

To further reduce traffic and, at the same time, enhance environmental health, public transportation provides an excellent alternative to personal vehicles. However, major challenges to comprehensive adoption are efficiency and reliability. Data analytics that tracks train and bus routes can prevent overcrowding and delays by highlighting trends in usage. City planners can then review this information and optimize resources for routes that are most used. Eventually, they can inform citizens about delays in real time.

Parking smartly

Another issue related to driving in a densely populated area is finding parking slots. Using ground sensors, information can be sent to a software platform that alerts waiting drivers when a vehicle has vacated a parking spot. In addition, other waiting cars can be directed to drive in patterns that minimize obstruction as they search for a parking space. This technology does not require advanced infrastructure or a high degree of investment, making it accessible to smaller cities.

Intelligent smart city street lighting

With the use of analytics and automation, street lighting can be adjusted according to the time of day, weather conditions, and whether there are humans present. Additionally, solar panels built into street lamps can generate power so that energy is put back into the grid when lamps are not in use. This not only saves energy but also provides a potential surplus for utilization in other parts of the city infrastructure.

Smart waste management

A person wearing a work uniform next to a range of waste sorting bins

With effective waste management systems, waste collection may be optimized to cut operational costs and reduce the impact on the environment. For example, with level sensors on waste containers, garbage truck drivers can be alerted when they reach a predetermined threshold. This way, time is saved emptying containers that are not close to full, and driving routes may become more efficient according to the real-time needs of waste management operators.

Smart Air quality management

The City Air Management Tool (CyAM) developed by Siemens collects pollution data and predicts emissions with approximately 90% accuracy through its cloud-based software programs. CyAM employs a dashboard with real-time air quality data which uses sensors throughout a region. This then enables the software to predict air pollution for approximately three to five days, according to an algorithm that harnesses an artificial neural network. Cities have up to 17 options for how they measure air quality. While local authorities may choose to use this data in different ways, one possible outcome is the introduction of low-emission zones, speed limits, or designing public transportation infrastructure around observable trends in emissions.

Efficient smart water systems

One of the most critical components of a city’s infrastructure is its water system. When in a potentially smart city the Internet of Things is directed towards management of the water supply, innovations that maximize the efficiency of wastewater collection and treatment, as well as the energy used to transport it, are of primary concern. A smart water system gathers data and supports analytics on flow, pressure, and distribution within a region. Using analytics, forecasts can be generated for planning purposes.

Smart Healthy environment

With coordinated efforts covering traffic management, water supply, waste collection and treatment, increased public transportation, energy-efficient buildings, and smart lighting, we can anticipate a cleaner, healthier environment with the increased adoption of smart cities.

Smart city coordination through platforms

While the Internet of Things provides many entry points into a smart city system, the need for an integrated platform to coordinate all of these components is increasingly identified and approached at the enterprise level. Such a platform can include many functions such as analytics, performance management, and presentation features.

At a minimum, the features available in a smart city platform should comprise:

  •   Visualization
  •   Integration of applications
  •   Data management

Such a platform may also include:

  •   Cybersecurity
  •   Network management
  •   Application development resources
  •   Analytics
  •   Reporting
  •   Simulation

Why open data?

Cities are already hubs of large amounts of data, though most of it is private and retained for needs particular to individuals and organizations. However, open data is essential for the common good facilitated by the Internet of Things and can generate statistics for use in public transportation, government effectiveness, and on maps. As city populations increase, the sharing of non-sensitive data can help ease the use of smart technologies. Open data can also facilitate government transparency. For example, in Brussels, public administrators have been depositing open data in easily accessible formats using the CKAN open-source data portal. Citizens and developers can then use this data for their own needs, and possibly to generate further innovation.

Improving tourist experience

One of the impediments to a quality tourism experience is the inevitability of crowds in tourist areas. Using real-time data collection and analysis, cities can identify tourist movement patterns and alert potential visitors about crowds that can be avoided. By using cameras, Wi-Fi hotspots, GPS tracking, and data harvested from social media platforms, it is possible to redirect traffic and prevent overcrowding and road congestion.

Additionally, early adopter cities may benefit from increased tourism in the early stages as travelers interested in sustainability and healthy environmental conditions may gravitate to these areas.

Crime prevention

Data collection and analysis can also be applied in the field of crime prevention. Data-based crime prevention is a product of harvesting information from security cameras, incident reports, and patrolling officers to create maps that can predict likely criminal activity. This can support law enforcement in predicting where and how crime is likely to occur, enabling the application of the most effective prevention measures. Since 2006 and over the first four years of the technology being implemented, Memphis Police (US, Tennessee) saw a reduction in crime of more than 30% due to the implementation of predictive analytics software.

Wearable tech for police

Using smart watches, officers can be alerted of dispatches while away from their vehicles. On the same device, heart rate and movement can also be tracked, monitoring an officer’s physical state and alerting a central platform if additional support is needed or if an officer has stopped moving.

Augmented reality can facilitate police training by providing simulations of dangerous scenarios within the safety of a virtual space, such as hostage situations or encounters with armed criminals. Additionally, officers can practice using discretion when firing to avoid unnecessary harm to innocent citizens.

Having sensors placed into law enforcement guns would also prevent unnecessary harm to citizens. The sensors could detect whether the user attempting to operate the gun is registered for it, as well as record the number of shots and from what position they were fired. This data can improve analysis in criminal investigations and enhance the accountability of law enforcement. Additionally, sensors can be fitted over bulletproof vests to alert backup support when an officer has been threatened by a weapon, providing a quick response that may improve the outcome of a conflict. GPS darts fired onto fleeing vehicles may prevent high-speed chases, improving safety within the community.

Stages of smart city development

Two people using smartphones standing next to a building and three growing plants

A smart city will take time to develop and should be done in several stages. Beginning with a comprehensive platform will allow various components to be integrated over time, without requiring major overhauls to the system. As needs are revealed and budgets are made clear, cities can gradually develop step by step.

Step 1. First, the platform of an IoT-based smart city is established. The design of a powered-by-IoT smart city is primary, and this is where implementation should start. This architecture must make room for the integration of the following components:

  • A network of sensors and actuators should be in place. A sensor collects data, such as information that a vehicle has left a parking spot. An actuator facilitates an action, for example alerting a driver that a parking spot has become available.
  • A field gateway preprocesses and filters data prior to including it in the data bank stored on the cloud. This enables cybersecurity while data is en route from a gateway into the cloud.
  • A data lake stores raw data before being processed. Once it’s ready for processing, it’s passed into a big data warehouse.
  • A big data warehouse only stores data that has been structured according to its value and loaded correctly for this type of storage. It also keeps contextual data, for example, the date sensors were installed, and the interactions that devices have had with other applications.

Step 2. This stage of smart city IoT application development involves monitoring and analytics. Using data analytics, decisions can be made regarding how a certain task will be managed and executed. For instance, moisture levels in soil can be detected through sensors in the ground, and park management may use this information to decide how to arrange watering patterns. This data is then displayed on a platform dashboard that allows users of the platform to know the amount of moisture in a zone of the park at any given moment.

Step 3. Massive quantities of data can be harvested over time to observe data patterns and correlations. Coupled with historical data from the big data warehouse, trends lead to the development of predictive models. Later, this can result in improved efficiencies in areas that are vulnerable to overuse, and eliminating costs spent on maintaining underused resources.

Step 4. The next stage sees control applications for smart cities signaling actuators to implement a task in a specified manner. Control applications can either be rule-based or ML-based, determining whether they operate manually or as a result of ML algorithms. Decisions around how these models are chosen and implemented are based on data analysis over time. As more data is generated, models can be tested and updated to improve effectiveness.

Step 5. A smart city’s platform ensures that citizens interact with applications in real time. These applications allow citizens to influence how devices are utilized, connect them to a central hub, and enable them to receive alerts and notifications. This can be implemented in traffic congestion by alerting drivers to alter their driving route, while simultaneously notifying employees at a traffic control center to adjust traffic lights and reroute traffic via driving applications.

Since a smart city is a cohesive experience that comprises many integrated devices and programs, integration is an ongoing process. City authorities should always think ahead regarding the future of development and what smart city applications and services may be useful for citizens of the future. This is not only in terms of sensors, but also functionality, and how data can be used to drive further efficiency and innovation.

For example, traffic management can be combined with energy conservation through installing solar panels over traffic lights, which can feed energy not only to traffic lights but into the grid, creating a surplus of energy for other systems. Additionally, air quality sensors that detect harmful chemicals in the atmosphere can be installed into street lights, providing information to local governments regarding the impact of environmental solutions. If the air quality in a certain area reaches a critical state, control applications may alert traffic signals to change patterns, reducing congestion in areas with too many harmful chemicals in the atmosphere.

Tracking progress and impact

When implementing smart city technologies, it is important to assess the impact of efforts to increase safety, efficiency in transport, the health of citizens, environmental standards, communication capabilities, and emergency preparedness.

Concerning safety, innovations such as crime mapping, gunshot tracking, and tools that enable predictive policing help to prevent crime. According to McKinsey, these technologies are estimated to reduce crime and deaths by 8-10%. In a city with a high crime rate and a population of five million people, this could potentially save up to 300 lives every year.

Transport can be enhanced with increased public transportation and roads equipped with sensors to support automatic vehicles. These technologies are estimated to reduce commute times by approximately 30 minutes. As for health, medical technology and citizen tracking systems are working in concert to maximize hospital efficiency, reduce doctor error, and improve patient outcomes.

Multiple environmental solutions could be implemented to prevent water leakage, monitor water quality, and consumption, and create smart irrigation systems. Because of poor management and configuration, a conventional irrigation system wastes on average around 30% of the water used. One promising solution describes a possible IoT city implementation scenario that aims to save up to 34% of water usage when harnessing data from sensors for temperature, humidity, and soil moisture, or up to 26% using only temperature inputs.

Additional improvements to waste management and traffic control can positively impact air quality as well. In case of emergency, dispatch systems can alert citizens of events such as local crime, hazardous toxins in the air, or lockdown measures, improving communication capabilities between municipalities and their citizens. This then facilitates improved emergency preparedness, particularly when a government wants to communicate information to citizens in the event of a natural disaster.

Learn about a complete IoT solution for water hauling management

Top 10 smart cities

A person in a smart city surrounded by IoT devices

The Center for Globalization and Strategy and IESE Business School’s Department of Strategy have prepared the seventh edition of their research, entitled IESE Cities in Motion Index 2020 (CIMI). Their mission is to promote an innovative approach to urban governance and support a new urban model for the 21st century.

The annual CIMI represents an analysis of 174 cities around the world and measures their development across nine dimensions: governance, urban planning, technology, international projection, human capital, social cohesion, mobility and transportation, the economy, and the environment.

According to the document, the following cities have achieved the most progress towards integrating smart applications into their municipal infrastructures.

No. 10: Hong Kong

As a global financial center located in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong is not only among the 10 smartest cities in the world but also ranks first in the world in terms of technology. The city also ranked fourth in international projection. However, given the unstable political and social situation, social cohesion showed rather low results: Hong Kong was ranked 111th.

Hong Kong has scored particularly well on its mobile penetration rate, with nearly 100% of its population claiming ownership of mobile phones. It has also recently adopted a new electronic identification system.

No. 9: Singapore

On the technology dimension, Singapore comes right after Hong Kong, ranking No. 2 in the world, but on international outreach, Singapore has overtaken its trading partner and was placed in 3rd position.

Singapore is accelerating efforts to modernize, using the Internet of Things as one of the key elements on the path to becoming a truly smart city. For example, Singapore has utilized pervasive surveillance cameras and GPS to create One Monitoring, a transportation system that allows residents to access traffic information. To manage waste throughout the city, the municipality has begun providing smart bins. Along with existing solutions, promising startups are rapidly emerging in areas like smart home solutions, smart building, IoT devices, industrial IoT, smart factories, and more.

No. 8: Amsterdam

Amsterdam has received much acclaim for its progress as a smart city, particularly with regards to its advances in technology, international outreach, social cohesion, mobility, and transportation. The list of projects currently underway in Amsterdam is impressive.

Its smart city innovation program also included IoT Living Lab, which provided an IoT infrastructure, active open data, and a developer-friendly network. Since 2015, the lab has connected hundreds of smart citizens through meetings, workshops, challenges, research projects, and city pilots.

No. 7: Berlin

Berlin ranked especially high on the mobility and transportation dimension, taking fourth place in the world. It’s not surprising considering the city’s efforts to advance this area. Smart City Berlin generally focuses on innovation in mobility, energy technology, healthcare, all areas of ICT, and security.

There are many projects related to traffic control, environment, and street lighting management. The city innovators believe that the streets of the future should be smart independently. The Smart Streets project, for example, is developing solutions for equipping street lamps and other outdoor furniture with smart IoT gateways.

Another project – the Berlin IoT lab for smart home/building (SENSE-Lab) – aims to change the fact that due to the lack of universal interfaces, smart home products and components from different manufacturers are not interconnected.

No. 6: Copenhagen

Ranked sixth in the overall rating, Copenhagen stands out particularly in the environment category, being in second place. This means that the Danish capital contributes to environmental sustainability, controls pollution, manages energy resources efficiently, and stimulates the development of a green economy.

These days Copenhagen has an ambitious goal to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. They plan to achieve it through a transition of energy supply, building retrofits, innovations in public infrastructure and mobility, waste management, and other key initiatives.

No. 5: Reykjavík

A person carrying a suitcase on wheels on a smart city background

Reykjavik is the city that has outpaced everyone in the environmental dimension and taken first place. This city also has quite a high position for social cohesion (no. 14) and international outreach (no. 16).

Reykjavik has been working on attracting citizens to public transport. The city encouraged the use of it with an app called Straeto, which has been downloaded 85,000 times. Additionally, an online consultation forum called Better Reykjavik enables citizens to participate in decisions on urban planning by allowing them to share their ideas through an easily accessible platform.

No. 4: Tokyo

Tokyo is ranked the 4th smartest city in the world according to the IESE index. To enhance security in its preparations for the 2020 Olympics, the city enabled face recognition technology. The government is generally aiming to hold the smartest Olympic games ever. They are planning to use advanced IoT and 5G technology.

The International Olympic Committee and Toyota are developing artificial intelligence (AI) vehicles for major stadiums. Some of them will utilize sensors and cameras to deliver equipment to athletes, others will assist fans with accessibility requirements. Meanwhile, driverless taxis have been prepared to transport athletes and tourists visiting the event.

No. 3: Paris

Across all the indicators, Paris ranked third in the world. Meanwhile, the French capital was placed second on two dimensions – mobility and transportation and international projection. The last one was quite obvious, given that Paris is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

Of all the projects being realized there, the transportation ones should be mentioned for sure. Since 2011, Paris has been providing a car-sharing service using GPS-connected electric vehicles. Users can track cars in their area using a mobile app, enabling easy access to available vehicles. Once in the car, drivers can reserve free parking spaces through the on-board control center.

No. 2: New York

As one of the most highly ranked smart cities, New York City boasts a number of initiatives encompassing free Wi-Fi, congestion management, waste management, and water monitoring. Home to over 8.5 million people, the population of New York City uses a billion gallons of water per day. To tackle this challenge, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection has implemented Automated Meter Reading to enable citizens to track their daily water usage while providing the municipality with a way to analyze the city’s consumption of water over time.

In addition to this, the city is using smart bins to monitor garbage levels to limit unnecessary pick-up of trash, reducing energy expenditure on the movement of garbage trucks.

No. 1: London

According to CIMI, London is No. 1 in the world’s overall rating of smart cities, and on two specific dimensions. It’s not hard to guess that this city ranked first for international outreach, and it also took the top spot for improving human capital. Evaluators also praised the application of technology, as well as efforts to improve mobility and transportation.

As the highest-ranked smart city, London is using smart technology to ease traffic congestion and improve parking. With the densest population in the United Kingdom, this benefits a wide range of people.

Conclusion

The possibilities offered by the Internet of Things are boundless. The same can be said for urban development, as most people today are moving to cities. IoT technologies are able to tackle numerous challenges that citizens encounter every single day: they can help reduce traffic congestion, optimize transportation systems, gather information to prevent crime, enhance energy efficiency in buildings, and even direct people to less crowded places.

There are already dozens of smart cities that can be considered exemplary in terms of innovation. However, every city experiences its own issues, so each of them requires customized solutions. When developing the city and thinking about how to improve the environment and lives of urban residents, consider implementing the Internet of Things, as it has already become an integral part of any truly successful smart city.

As you start on the path to becoming a smart city, reflect on the approach and technologies you would like to use, put forward ideas for future solutions, and discuss them with an IoT development company that will bring your plans to life.

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