Guest article by Richard van Hooijdonk
In around 30 years, planet Earth will be home to almost ten billion people, 68 per cent of which will live in urban areas. And those urban areas will face a torrent of problems, as authorities will have to rely on limited resources to provide public services to a growing number of citizens. Besides traffic congestion and the potential rise in crime rates, rapid urbanization could also lead to a number of environmental problems like air pollution and overwhelmed waste collection systems. To tackle these challenges and make cities more liveable and manageable, governments are increasingly turning to the smart city concept.
At the heart of this approach is the use of technology to improve public services such as transportation, water systems, waste disposal, and many others. And among all the technologies smart cities deploy, the Internet of Things stands out as the most important, as it’s a network of sensors and connected devices that collect data critical for understanding how urban areas function. As Stephen Brobst, the chief technology officer of Teradata, a big data analytics company, says, the IoT enables us to “get a view of the whole city across these different domains of the life of the city as it’s captured in the sensor data.”
The many ways in which the IoT helps smart cities
Investments in smart cities are ramping up across the world and are expected to grow from $80 billion this year to $135 billion by 2021. Part of that money is allocated for IoT projects that help governments and residents to increase energy efficiency, improve traffic flow, reduce pollution, cut costs, and enjoy a number of other benefits. In other words, the IoT helps smart cities to achieve many of their key goals. Take, for example, the problem of traffic congestion in cities, which is in large part caused by drivers looking for parking space. IoT sensors embedded into the city’s streets, as in the case of Barcelona, can detect empty parking spots and alert drivers through a smartphone app. This helps people park their cars faster, saving time and fuel while reducing harmful emissions.
Many smart cities also tend to promote bike-sharing services as a way to reduce pollution and congestion, but bike theft could be an obstacle for that plan. One way IoT tech can help solve this issue is through technology such as Bitlock, a keyless bike lock that’s unlocked by the user’s smartphone and tracks the GPS location of the bike. This will help police potentially track and recover stolen bikes, while also allowing private and public organizations to analyze bike traffic patterns and find ways to improve the service.
IoT technology is also efficient in tracking and analyzing water use in buildings. For instance, Banyan Water, a smart water management company, claims it’s helped customers to save more than seven billion liters of water since its inception in 2011. The way it does this is by placing sensors and ultrasonic meters that track water consumption across the building, using software to analyze the gathered data and find anomalies such as leaks and overspend.
Municipal waste management companies could benefit from the IoT, too, by placing sensors in waste collection sites, and instead of adhering to strict schedules, dispatching haulers only when collection is really needed. This could cut “overhead for waste makers by up to a whopping 60 percent.”
Things to keep in mind when implementing IoT projects
Clearly, IoT technology can improve lives in urban areas in many different ways, but simply implementing the latest tech won’t necessarily make a city ‘smart’. Marc Jadoul, the head of IoT market development at Nokia, explains that even before the first sensor is installed, the authorities must define their future objectives and budget. The next step is to create broadband internet and IoT infrastructure that can sustain increased traffic. Jadoul also suggests that the authorities need to “think big, but start small” and “identify appropriate milestones and metrics” to be able to monitor their progress. Lastly, technology isn’t the goal, but rather an instrument to make people’s lives better and more connected. To that end, the authorities should promote citizens’ engagement in ‘smart’ projects by asking for their feedback and informing them of the progress. After all, “it’s citizens’ acceptance and engagement that will eventually determine success or failure of any smart city initiative,” Jadoul concludes.
Two key challenges for the IoT and smart cities
And while authorities and citizens see smart cities as a way to live better lives, hackers see them as a potential target. The wealth of data and sensitive services that connected devices produce can be abused by bad actors to disrupt a city’s operations. For instance, imagine if cyber-attacks crippled a traffic light system or a water filtration plant and the hackers asked for ransom. This makes cyber-security one of the key priorities of any smart city endeavour. Another challenge for authorities is the need to buy expensive servers, sensors, high-speed internet networks, and a range of other equipment. Many cities struggle to find the money, although IoT projects could lead to cost savings “to the tune of $2.3 trillion in efficiencies created and revenue generated worldwide by 2024.”
Just rolling out the tech won’t be enough
As our planet becomes increasingly crowded and more people flood to cities, authorities will be under pressure to provide public services to an ever-growing number of citizens and offset the negative consequences of urbanization. Technology such as the IoT and the concept of smart cities might be a solution and a way to fight traffic congestion, pollution, inadequate water systems, and a number of other problems. But for this approach to succeed, citizen acceptance and engagement is crucial, as simply rolling out the tech won’t be enough.
Author: Richard van Hooijdonk
International keynote speaker, trend watcher and futurist Richard van Hooijdonk offers inspiring lectures on how technology impacts the way we live, work and do business. Over 420,000 people have already attended his renowned inspiration sessions, in the Netherlands as well as abroad. He works together with RTL television and presents the weekly radio program ‘Mindshift’ on BNR news radio. Van Hooijdonk is also a guest lecturer at Nyenrode and Erasmus Universities. https://www.richardvanhooijdonk.com
Cover photo by https://www.shutterstock.com/g/yingyaipumi
Azevedo, Mary Ann, https://newsroom.cisco.com/feature-content?type=webcontent&articleId=1868607.
Glaeser, Edward and Helen Dempster, https://www.theigc.org/reader/contagion-crime-and-congestion-overcoming-the-downsides-of-density/cities-and-urbanisation-encourage-economic-growth-in-the-developing-world/.