“Digital technologies are doing for human brainpower what the steam engine and related technologies did for human muscle power. They’re allowing us to overcome many limitations rapidly and to open up new frontiers with unprecedented speed. It’s a very big deal. But how exactly it will play out is uncertain”
–Andrew McAfee

An increasing scarcity of resources, predicted climate change and demographic change will make our world look different in the future than it does today. Cities, as the homes of more than 50% of the world’s population, are already affected by the consequences more than the surrounding areas. Enormous infrastructure overloads, ever-increasing problems with water and energy supply as well as increasing health burdens are causing cities to lose a quality of life for their inhabitants. Our cities, in particular, are the engines of the economy, places of creativity and innovation, but also places of freedom and independence.

Smart City Definition

“A Smart Sustainable City (SSC) is an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects.”
International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities – 2014

In short: A Smart City uses data and technologies to improve the lives of inhabitants and increases business opportunities for companies.

Smart City Technologies

Smart Infrastructure

Smart Infrastructure is the result of combining physical infrastructure (transport, energy, water, and waste) with digital infrastructure (IoT, sensors, networks, BIM/GIS, Big Data & Machine Learning).

 

Source: The Smart Infrastructure Paper, Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

When a city is smart, its infrastructure has to be as well. Embedded sensing technologies allow real-time data acquisition and analysis. This data is then delivered as meaningful and reliable information to infrastructure providers, which allows them to make more sophisticated decisions – decreasing data volume & increasing data value.
Infrastructure is able to communicate in real time with users and fulfill their needs. Smart infrastructure is self-aware and assets their own maintenance which leads to condition-based maintenance rather than the now established cycle-based maintenance. Self-aware infrastructure not only reduces costs but also decreases down times and allows greater operational efficiency.

AI – learning how people use cities

Reliable, robust and meaningful information gathered and processed by smart infrastructure can be used by AI for a better understanding of the usage of infrastructure. A transformation in design and construction of infrastructure leads to more efficient and reliable infrastructure that is fitted in the best way for the citizen´s needs. Supporting technologies like cloud computing enable communities and cities to scale their analytics and made the integration of these sophisticated technologies much easier.

But very much like the security & privacy issues of connected cars we have illustrated in this blog post, AI can be a serious threat for user and citizens. There´s not even a need to think of dystopian novels like 1984 by  George Orwell when China´s implementation of its social credit system shows, that sophisticated technologies not only can be used for good. Questioning the evolution of AI is a critical point to maintain hard-fought civil rights.

Geospatial Technologies

Geospatial technologies are modern tools that contribute to geographic mapping and analysis of the Earth and human societies. Building smart cities is a continuous process and requires collaboration from various stakeholders. Geospatial technologies make use of all the big data that is collected from various sources.

  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – software tools used for mapping and analyzing data. GIS can be used to detect patterns from various data sources e.g. disease clusters, access to resources
  • Internet Mapping Technologies – web-based applications like Google Earth or Microsoft Virtual Earth is changing the way geospatial data is viewed and shared. Those applications make information available for users that have been exclusive for professionals using GIS 
  • Global Satelite Navigation System (GNNS) – a network of satellites that gives precise coordinates to users E.g. GPS, GALILEO, GLONASS, BEIDOU
  • Remote Sensingmonitoring an area from a distance with cameras on satellites or planes. Tracking clouds to predict the weather or the growth of a city over years or even decades

Connectivity

While it may be possible to use existing frameworks in certain areas to connect smart infrastructure to the Internet of Things, cities and providers will face challenges to link remote infrastructure and all of the sensors they use. For example, traffic lights in inner city areas could be connected to the Internet of Things by fiber optic cables or even telephone and cable networks. When there are no existing telecommunication frameworks, some use cases like operating floodlights in parks require technologies that enable connectivity without major investments.  Today’s cellular IoT Networks like NB-IoT and LTE-M are great fits for a huge variety of use cases, and with the upcoming launches of 5G-networks, there is a solution for nearly every thinkable application.

If you want to get a deeper insight into these technologies, we have written articles about NB-IoT & LTE-M and 5G.