The United Nations has reported that by 2050, 66 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Escalating numbers of urban residents has increased the strain on public services, infrastructure and resources. One potential solution to this is smart technology, which is being used to improve quality of life for growing populations around the world. Here, Jonathan Wilkins, MD at EU Automation, discusses developments in some of the world’s most advanced smart cities.
Across the globe, cities are becoming smarter, by incorporating sensor-based Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and city-wide initiatives to try and improve the lives of the residents. Lux Research has suggested that the world will deploy a trillion sensors by 2020, drastically increasing the amount of available data from the world’s cities.
A growing number of nations are announcing their commitment to smart city development. In India, for example, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a US$7.4 billion initiative with the aim of creating 100 smart cities by 2020. In Latin America, Panama is emerging as the region’s first smart city in an attempt to solve traffic congestion and other problems in the city. In Rwanda, Kigali is being transformed into a smart city, optimised for urban living.
With so many new players emerging, we look at some of the leading smart cities, setting the example for the rest of the world.
The island city state of Singapore can be regarded as the world’s premier smart city. The ambitious Smart Nation programme was launched in 2014 and Singapore has been at the forefront of the smart city movement ever since. The island already boasts fibre network access across its entirety, three mobile devices for every two people and a huge network of sensors and cameras providing a large pool of data for analysis.
Singapore’s sweeping effort is likely to impact the life of every single resident. At the moment, 80 percent of residents live in apartments maintained by the Housing and Development Board, which has given the government a healthy testing ground for smart technology. Individual apartments are equipped with IoT sensors to measure energy usage, waste production and water usage. It is important that the island monitors these, as Singapore imports billions of gallons of water from neighbouring Malaysia. The IoT devices can feed into vacuum waste management systems, solar panels or water reclamation equipment.
IoT technology is not limited to homes. Singapore is also monitoring the health of its citizens and is currently testing a monitoring system for elderly relatives, which notifies a caregiver or family member if a lack of activity is detected. A tele-health system that enables remote treatment for medical care is also being trialled.
As a part of its transition to a smart city, Singapore is also testing autonomous vehicles such as shuttles and taxis. By 2020, the government has mandated a satellite navigation system in all vehicles, providing a wealth of data for location monitoring and traffic analysis.
Singapore’s unique geography and political situation has enabled it to test and commercialise ideas without a lengthy regulatory process, so Singapore is likely to remain at the forefront of this change.
The US government announced in September 2015 that it was committing US$160 million to support smart cities over the next five years. One city in particular that has embraced smart city technology is Boston, Massachusetts, where technology is being embedded along and underneath the streets. So far, Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue have become Smart Streets, with cameras and sensors monitoring navigation and interaction between drivers, pedestrians and other road users.
The city is working with mobile network provider, Verizon, to aggregate the data to learn more about road safety hazards and test smart services. Alongside its cameras and sensors, the city has worked with Verizon to develop a web application for data analysis, visualisation and reporting. Boston is a leader in the global Vision Zero initiative, which aims to reduce the number of fatal traffic crashes using technology to collect data on the behaviour of drivers.
Boston has also unveiled a number of apps to improve the day-to-day experiences of residents. These include apps for paying parking tickets and reporting potholes. There’s also a mobile app for Hubway, the city’s bike share system, which shows users bike availability in real-time.
Like Singapore, Boston has also started testing autonomous vehicles. In 2017, start-up nuTunomy Inc began testing driverless cars in a 191-acre park. The project is set to expand once certain targets have been reached.
Oslo has implemented city-wide smart technology to make its streets, transport and buildings greener. One piece of technology showing particularly positive results is smart streetlights that respond to weather forecasts and light conditions, which have reduced energy costs for the city by 70 percent.
Oslo is highly rated for its excellent quality of life and it is now striving to be smarter, more inclusive and more creative. As a part of this, the city runs a regular contest, SmartOslo, where entrepreneurs and start-ups can pitch their ideas to improve the city.
In addition, the city has started a 10-year programme called FutureBuilt, a collaborative project that aims to support climate-friendly urban development by incorporating and integrating new technology. The project involves almost a dozen partners that are working to build climate-friendly buildings and districts. The new facilities will be of high architectural quality and near to transport hubs and one school built as part of the scheme has automated energy recovery and rooftop classrooms.
In Oslo, 60 percent of the city’s greenhouse emissions are generated by the transport sector. The city has embraced electric vehicles (EVs) by introducing incentives to encourage more people to choose these vehicles, such as not having to pay the 25 percent sales tax and being able to use the bus lane. The electrical infrastructure has been improved to match, adding 2,000 charging points at key points around the city.
There’s a lot of work to be done for our cities to be ready for the increased population and urbanisation of 2050, but in every continent projects and schemes are pioneering new developments, technologies and ideas to improve city life. This is expected to continue as more nations dedicate funding to projects that will help to lead the way.
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