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What makes smart cities, smart?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock)

Global urbanization is seemingly unstoppable, and with more and more citizens, the cost of living in cities is skyrocketing, threatening to increase social inequality, slow down economic growth and push up crime levels. Smart cities are said to provide the solution to this problem by implementing technology into city projects to help reduce costs.

Technology has therefore brought city infrastructure to the forefront of our agendas – and increasingly citizens are embracing smart homes, and local and national governments are promoting smart technology initiatives, from smart street lighting to driverless public transport. There’s no denying it, smart cities are no longer a thing of the future. They’re very much here.

But becoming a smart city is more than simply reveling in technology advancements. According to a recent study (opens in new tab) conducted by ABI Research, in partnership with InterDigital, on behalf of its Smart Cities-focused business, ChordantTM, and CA Technologies, the scope for efficiency improvements through the deployment of smart city technology in a typical mega city (a metropolitan area with a total population in excess of ten million), across all urban sectors and segments, amounts to more than US$5 trillion in yearly cost savings globally. 

However, in order to successfully utilize smart city technologies and resources in a way that will bring about significant cost savings, all smart cities stakeholders will need to think beyond merely deploying smart street lights. Indeed, if enterprises, governments and citizens are to benefit from smart city technologies, a holistic approach which promotes collaboration should be at the heart of the smart city vision.    

A smarter approach to utilities 

Smart city technology has already been touted for new innovations such as smart bins and smart meters. But, in fact, when it comes to utilities, smart technology can extend way beyond this. 

For citizens, the adoption of these new technologies will see the deployment of home microgrids, smart home solutions, and energy and water-saving appliances to help reduce energy and water consumption. This, in turn, will reduce citizen expenditure on utilities.

For governments, smart street lights systems alone could yield a 30% cost saving, while water utilities could be slashed by removing the need for manual leak detection through the deployment of advanced leak detection systems. Opportunities for cost savings for governments also exist through water waste management and waste prevention systems. Street cleaning is another area in which cities can use technology to drive down costs, deploying autonomous or driverless vehicles for cleaning and maintainence and saving on employee costs. 

Finally, enterprises could also see significant cost savings and reduction in utilities through the use of microgrids to increase energy efficiency. Adopting these technologies could contribute to a potential $1.66 trillion cost-saving opportunity.   

Improving living standards 

Public safety and security are big government concerns, driven by the rise in terrorist and crime threats. The deployment of AI-based automation for surveillance cameras, for example, can reduce the cost of monitoring video footage, while optimizing data storagefor governments, and improving public safety for citizens.   

Governments also face a huge challenge in providing affordable accomodation to citizens, while maintaining a balance between homes and enterprise buildings. New developments that make housing affordable, based on new models for community living relating to multimodal transit, shared renewable community grids and efficient buildings, present a solution to this challenge for both governments and citizens.

Technology is also playing a role in transforming healthcare practices, helping to combat rising costs. Remote healthcare allow for shorter stays in hospital and is a win-win situation for both the healthcare sector and for citizens, as it provides cheaper care and in some cases, improves healthcare standards.   

Driving down cost in transportation   

Transportation and mobility is a major cost for cities, citizens and enterprises. For cities, it continues to be a major cost center in governmental budgets. But the deployment of smart city technologies, such as electronic toll collection (ETC), vehicle to infrastructure (V2X) and intelligent traffic light systems, can optimize the use of existing road capacity and, in turn, help reduce these costs.   

For citizens, transportation and mobility represent the second largest item in family budgets, closely behind housing. Yet the deployment of smart city technology can lead to the emergence of new paradigms that can result in significant economic savings for citizens, such as ridesharing, mobility as a service (MaaS) and in the long term, driverless car sharing. Ultimately, these technologies will lower the cost of services that may have otherwise been too expensive, or even unattainable for some.   

And enterprises can benefit from IoT technology for freight transportation, allowing shippers to select the most flexible and affordable transport based on cargo capacity. 

Problem shared, problem halved 

While smart city and IoT technologies can yield significant cost savings, simply deploying these technologies is not enough. Embracing the sharing economy model should also be a priority for smart city stakeholders. This should see the joining together of technologies, platforms and solutions into a holistic, automated, autonomous, closed-loop system capable of altering parameters based on data to regulate supply and demand.   

To solve the challenge of creating an interoperable, agnostic ecosystem, smart city stakeholders should encourage the birth of dedicated marketplaces, aggregating multiple ecosystem partners and providing scalable and vendor-agnostic platforms and data services, and applications. These marketplaces will become pivotal for smart city stakeholders to keep the cost of deploying new platforms to a minimum while also enabling the continued use of legacy systems and platforms.   

This approach has already been used in the UK through the oneTRANSPORT initiative, which is based on an open standardized platform for transport data. Through the oneTRANSPORT initiative, governments and private sector organizations have been able to provide citizens with an enhanced transport experience through the sharing of both real-time and historical transport information from data producers to transport authorities, application developers and others. 

A bright future 

The cost of living in cities is only going to increase, and citizens, governments and enterprises have the challenge of utilizing existing and nascent technologies to increase efficiency and enhance quality of life within our mega cities. If cities are to successfully harness the $5 trillion cost-saving opportunity through IoT and smart technologies, it’s essential that sharing paradigms are at the heart of their strategies.

Jim Nolan, EVP of Chordant, InterDigital (opens in new tab)

Image Credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock

JAMES J. NOLAN is Executive Vice President, Products. As head of the InterDigital's product portfolio, Mr. Nolan oversees the advancement of the company’s market-ready technologies toward commercialization as well as manages the company’s existing product portfolio.