Why the Internet of Things will be at the heart of smart city transformation

The smart cities movement is absolutely trying to change our world for the better. Great visionary goals are being set at both at city and national level—like India announcing its intention to create 100 smart cities or via the creation of organisations like the UK’s Future Cities Catapult.

Around the globe, countries and cities are exploring how technology can make urban environments cleaner, healthier and more pleasant in which to live. We know that technology cannot resolve every city challenge, nor should we expect it to do so. Yet, if applied well, technology can help solve pressing needs or meet aspirations, sustainably delivering improved quality of life, more prosperity and efficiency.

A great many people, including myself, are excited about the possibilities of bringing technology into cities to see this value realised. The deployment of technology is part of the urban transformation concept which we been calling the smart city.

Industry analysts have embraced the smart city concept and are predicting huge growth in the levels of spending and of the number of devices installed along the way (e.g. Navigant, IDC & Gartner, and this has considerably fuelled the expectations of the technology industry and cities.

Smart cities often comprise many different projects, typically smart energy, smart water, smart transport, smart waste, e-Government and many others. Yet as with many analyst projections, growth and spending have been lagging behind the vast levels forecast (although it’s still growing strongly).

In tandem, there is a lot of discussion about the Internet of Things (IOT). The IOT represents a much broader range of applications than in just cities, but the convergence of these trends creates the most likely path towards smart and technology enabled cities.

With an overall vision set out by a city’s leaders, groups working on tactical solutions to specific issues are increasingly deploying IOT solutions to deliver projects. This is a less complicated means of delivering solutions, which is faster, easier and less frightening. What’s more, we are already seeing it working.

Adopting an IOT approach has been significantly boosted by the rapid reduction both in the cost of connectivity and data transmission, as well as the cost and power requirements of sensors. Many IOT projects rely on connecting large numbers of sensors, through a system to each report data.

At its most basic, managing city infrastructure is about sensing and actuating. The IOT adds scale and intelligence. For example, sensors can alert where and when a trash can needs emptying, so it can be dealt with in a timely and cost-effective manner. The IOT can also coordinate this with recycling/ sorting centers to further reduce costs and optimize resources.

Solving the challenges, which emerge when large numbers of people and businesses inhabit the same space, is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. IOT deployment represents a transformation now, but successful projects will simply become the new business as usual. Ten years ago e-Government was a big deal; today it’s just how we do things. The same thing is happening with the smart city — soon we will drop the “smart” and simply focus on the “city”.

The utopia that I and many others aspire to will see IOT projects joined together across cities and possibly national boundaries, optimizing efficiency and cost savings whilst maximising benefits to citizens and businesses. Right now only a very few courageous cities such as Barcelona and Dubai dare to aim so high, but as others take even baby steps through discrete projects the process of transformation can only continue to gain momentum.

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