The ‘smart’ tag has been floating around ad nauseam in the past years, up-scaling everything from clothes through tennis rackets to water bottles. With cities joining in, it could get a bit confusing to understand what actually makes an object, a service, or an area smart.
We could try by looking at a few traits that make us, humans smart; like the ability to learn and interact. Add in some experience, coordination, connectivity, and predictability and we mostly defined what makes a smart city smart.
In essence a city is a complex intertwined system of systems that need to work and interact with each other 24/7. With the increase of urbanisation comes the growing threat of congestion, and difficulties in traffic and commuter management. Mobility is key, and can make all the difference either seamlessly aiding people and goods in getting from A to B or acting as a disruptive obstacle to the delicate ecology cities represent.
Devices, fixed or nomad, that are able to interact with each other, send and receive information, analyse and interpret it are the base.
The smart ones use data
As per Juniper Research’s specialists in new technology, the following five cities are the smartest in the world: Barcelona, New York City, London, Nice, and Singapore. Apart from all the other mind-blowing technology they use, here is what they are doing in transport.
Barcelona is not only the organizer of the smart city expo but is also leading the way in environment friendly solutions and smart parking, a platform enabling drivers to find available spots and pay for them online. They also re-distributed their bicycle systems to inspire more people to choose an eco-friendlier and healthier transportation alternative.
Being one of the most densely populated cites of the US, congestion costs New York City billions of dollars every year. The project, Midtown in Motion (MiM) sets out to tackle traffic issues and enables New Yorkers to move around faster and safer. MiM started off as a pilot in 2011, when the city deployed 100 microwave sensors at crucial intersections to monitor traffic flow and check the line of cars waiting at any given time. They then tracked how long it takes for a car to move from one traffic light to the other and sent the combined data for analysis to traffic engineers.
London unveiled their Smart London Plan in 2011 scoring high on technology and open data. Connecting their CCTV system to their public and open data platform enables the city engineers to deal with congestion and traffic jams; develop a system to provide Londoners with queuing alerts and increase safety by installing proximity signals. London of course is no beginner in deploying such solutions, they have launched their Oyster card system over a decade ago (in 2003). A bit more recently, in 2014, they introduced the possibility of paying for the Tube via mobile phones using an NFC (Near Field Communication) payment system, which Londoners already had the pleasure to use on buses since 2012.
The city of Nice is praised for several projects connected under their umbrella platform “Connected Boulevard”. Projects range from mobility, through waste collection to street lighting as well as air and noise monitoring. With an ambitious leadership hoping to increase their already popular city to an even more visited tourist destination as well as plans on attracting foreign business, Nice understood what it needs to do and switched to high gear on achieving their smart city plans.
The young island nation of Singapore has been spurting disruptive ideas since its formation and has a very well deserved spot on the list. They introduced an electronic road pricing system that uses real-time data gathered from traffic conditions to determine prices of road tolls. If it seems futuristic; it is worth to mention this was in 1998. In 2014, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched the Smart Nation plan, where “people live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled seamlessly by technology, offering exciting opportunities for all“. If it’s Singapore, it’s cutting-edge so it comes as no surprise that the nation is testing a network of self-driving cars as a mean of public transportation.
Ambitious goals on the (Eastern) horizon
Indian PM, Narendra Modi proposed plans to build no less than 100 smart cities by 2022, and economic giant China has previously announced to integrate 54 cities in their smart city programme by the end of 2015. A brand new city in South Korea, Songdo has already been purposefully built to become smart and is considered by many “the city of the future”. One of their innovations was placing sensors beneath the streets that detect traffic conditions, altering signals based on the data input.
Further down along the road there are dozens of disruptive ideas on how we can make cities smarter. Ever-ambitious Dubai has revealed the world’ first and largest 5D traffic control room that will help in monitoring not only the roads in the city but also weather conditions, and emergency situations. Neighbouring Abu Dhabi has already started building Masdar City, an urban hub planned to fully sustain itself, run mostly on energy obtained from solar panels and emit zero waste, and transport people with driverless underground pods.
They may sound futuristic and more like an idea a teenage George Lucas would jot down but it seems smart cities are the present and they have so much more potential in transforming urban living.