It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a smart city was science fiction. The idea that a massive proliferation of devices could imbed intelligence into the fabric of an urban area was mind blowing – but it has become a reality. By 2025, the concept will be firmly bedded into our societies and the benefits of smart cities will be widely felt.
Cities can’t stay still. United Nations data suggests that 66 per cent of the population will be living in urban areas by 2050, so there is an urgent need for technology to streamline the way that they operate and serve their huge numbers of residents.
Urbanisation is placing mounting pressure on infrastructure, transportation, water, electricity and all the mechanisms of everyday life. Cities are having to evolve, and become increasingly smart, to cope with the incredible strain they are being put under.
So what does it mean to be a ‘smart city’? While there are lots of definitions for smart cities, often based on the number of connected things, my idea of a smart city is a dynamic set-up that improves the quality of living in a dense urban environment. It is attractive to governments who are in charge of running them, people who want to live there, and companies that want to do business there.
Cities become smart by creating a platform that connects multiple data sets and enables shrewd decision making. Information is fed back from a huge network of sensors, cameras, wireless devices and data centres, monitoring traffic density and velocity, noise levels, air pollution, rainfall, movement, waste – pretty much anything. Data is fed back to servers, analysed, and useful information is created to help governments manage cities. Incidentally, this intelligence can also be used by commercial businesses to help them inform their operations and create efficiencies.
Today, smart cities are already showing how data from multiple IoT solutions can be integrated to inform and improve how cities are run, with applications in mobile and transport, energy and sustainability, physical infrastructure, governance, and safety and security. The key words of smart cities are: connectivity, data and intelligence – leading to efficiency, sustainability and convenience.
This all sounds fantastic – music to the ears of city planners and architects, as well as the people that live in densely populated urban areas who stand to benefit. So can it get even better by 2025? What can we expect to change in the next decade?
Firstly, the world population will keep growing. The United Nations forecasts that this will increase from 7.2 billion today to 8.1 billion in 2025. The number of smart cities in the world will also rise – to at least 88. And the number of connected things within these smart cities is expected to hit an astonishing 9.7 billion by 2020. In nine years’ time, people, things and places in every aspect of urban society will be connected, with increasing scale and reach. Instead of a linear set of data collection, analysis and reaction; there will be a real-time exchange of sensing and response.
For instance, smart city buildings will be dynamic, intelligent and reactive to what’s happening around them. They will adapt heating and lighting in response to the weather; and they will store energy when costs are low for use when prices and demand go up. Blue roofs will capture rainwater, acting as reservoirs during heavy rain to prevent flooding, while creating a supply for when water is scarce.
2025 will not be the end of smart city development. Progress will be ongoing. By 2050, individual buildings and public spaces will be part of a highly sensitive network. Within it, a variety of sensors will collect data, which will be analysed and acted upon to respond to the needs of dwellers and the city at large. Resources of food, energy, clean air and water will be produced to meet demand and used more efficiently. In smart cities, channels of communication through social networks will become increasingly open. This will enable governments to share policy changes and success stories, and encourage feedback. In this way, they can keep their stakeholders engaged so that they feel part of the process. This can only be a positive in my view.
In 2025 and beyond, data driven smart cities will be the norm. As the social proof of the benefits they bring to individuals and society starts to become more tangible and visible, there may be a greater acceptance of sharing information about the way we live within, and interact with, urban environments.
I am genuinely excited about the developments that lie ahead. Cities will have more collaborative communities; fully aware of how the city is functioning; with the ability to work towards shared goals and demand change for the better.
Gavin Wheeldon, CEO, Purple
Image source: Shutterstock/ jamesteohart