There’s no question the IoT is at an inflection point for enterprise organizations, as the IoT’s connectedness and data saturation has been the catalyst for both repurposing old technologies and shaping new ones. It’s clearly revolutionized how we work, but what about how we live? Most of us already know connected cars are coming (and quickly), but think bigger: Smart cities are appearing all across the globe. Let’s examine how these municipalities are making use of the IoT.
The Rise of Smart Cities
Cityminded reports that about 100 years ago, approximately 20 percent of the population lived in urban areas—now, it’s over 50 percent. By 2050, UN projections show the number of people living in urban areas will reach 66 percent while the population increases by 2.5 billion. Just think—as it stands today, could your city handle an influx of one million people each week? Probably not.
There’s good news, though—as we continue to scratch the surface of the IoT’s potential, cities all over the globe are getting on board by embracing smart city initiatives. They’ve had help, too: Just last year, the government allocated $160 million for smart city research. Urban epicenters like Barcelona, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dubai, Singapore, San Francisco, and New York are already experimenting with IoT applications and making traditional infrastructure more efficient with digital connection and telecommunication. The end goal is to improve the lives of citizens and prepare for the future while, of course, saving money in the process. As a whole, these and other cities are expected to spend as much as $41 trillion on IoT technologies over the course of the next 20 years.
That covers why smart cities have risen to the forefront of our national discussions at the intersection of population, sustainability, and technology, but how does that discussion manifest into action? Let’s break it down.
Three Areas for IoT Growth
It’s clear urban communication systems will make incredible strides once IoT enabled, but there are a few other key areas that will see growth and improvement with the IoT: resource management, transportation, and public health and safety. Here’s what you need to know about each of them.
Resource management. The IoT can basically be described as a regenerating system of sensors, data, and actionable insight. Think of this as a circle—a formula, if you will, that can be applied to city resource management just as easily as it can be applied to the management of your supply chain. Got it? Congratulations! You’ve just conceptualized the smart grid.
- Water. Harvard reports that new, strategically placed sensors can help cities reduce the overflow in sewers, prevent pollution, and even anticipate flooding. Interestingly, the latter program utilizes all that whitespace between television channels to transmit disaster preparedness information to the public. That’s what to do with excess water, but what about conserving it when there’s not enough? Smart water meter technologies may be the answer, as they reportedly save Barcelona $58 million
- Electricity. Smart grid systems can help cities efficiently manage resources like electricity, too. For example, in many major metropolitan areas, ‘smart’ LED streetlights have been installed, leaving the door open for predictive analytics. (Measuring how many people are in an area and adjusting light accordingly, for example, is one application.) Electricity and gas meters can also be hooked up to smart grids, making both businesses and residences more energy efficient.
Transportation. Do you love to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway? Pine for those times you get to comb rows of cars in search of a parking space? Me neither. It turns out those instances aren’t just inconvenient for your schedule, though—multiply them by millions of schedules and factor in environmental concerns, and it’s really worth honking your horn about.
- Traffic. With relatively simple modifications—like, say, HD cameras installed on streetlights and apps that alert you to the nearest available spot—the IoT can ease your parking woes. It does a lot more than that, though, reducing road congestion, fuel waste, and CO2 emissions. As cars get smarter, too, the IoT can even connect to your smartphone to help discourage distracted driving.
- Public transportation. When it comes to public transportation, the IoT can mean a lot more than just down-to-the-minute arrival times (although those are nice). The implications reach into maintenance and safety, as sensors can indicate when maintenance is due or send an alert if a train collision is imminent.
Public Safety and Health. At the heart of any IoT application is data, and the data being used in many smart cities aims to improve not only overall efficiency, but also public safety and health.
- Air quality. Do you have a Fitbit or another fitness tracker? The city of Chicago does—sort of. In actuality, a network of sensors in the Windy City collects real-time data on things like noise, pedestrian traffic, and air quality in order to determine how the environment affects both infrastructure and lives.
- The potential for connectedness (i.e., real-time cameras on streetlights like I mentioned earlier) to curtail crime in major cities is obvious: more exposure equals less ambiguity in the criminal justice system.
There’s no doubt the rise of smart cities is big business—and if you ask me, it’s big business that makes even bigger sense. I’m not the only one who thinks that, either. Major players in this space already include companies like GE Lighting, IBM, Cisco, Siemens, Intel, and more.
What do you think the future holds for IoT-enabled municipalities? In your opinion, what’s the biggest advantage we’ll see as a society as cities get smarter? What about challenges? How concerned are you when it comes to privacy and security in the IoT? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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