Humans have always been trying to make their lives easier and more efficient. From the earliest sewer systems in ancient Rome to the drone-driven delivery services in many modern cities, we are continually striving towards making our everyday tasks more effective.
Lucky for us, the modern systems of economy and technology are also focused on this kind of evolvement. Capitalism may be a swear-word for some, but it has contributed to increasing our living standards and reducing the costs associated with it.
This constant development is accelerating as we move forward in time. Just a century ago, we were able to perceive this development without too much effort. However, in the modern era, the change is so multidimensional and expansive that our brains cannot possibly comprehend the vastness of it.
One of the facets of this evolution is the new way of urban development. With sophisticated drainage and waste-management, complicated public transportation, as well as other well-engineered systems, our cities are already billion times better than they used to be, say, a century ago.
However, they can get even better by corresponding to the new technological advancements. In this article, we’re going to tell you all about smart cities and how they lead us to effectively use information gathered from public transport, energy production, air quality indicators and many more.
What are Smart Cities?
Smart cities are just like what their name suggests: the cities that smartly manage their urban elements. Besides, like other objects that have the same adjective, like smartphones or smart houses, smart cities predominantly use information technologies to efficiently organize themselves.
Smart cities combine infrastructure and information technology to increase the quality of everyday lives of their citizens and improve the government-citizen interaction. Almost every element of the urban area has integrated detection devices that monitor their activities. The data collected from these sensors are then used by the city officials to interact with infrastructure, as well as citizens, and better manage the systems like water supply, public transportation, information systems, waste management, etc.
Fundamentally, this collection of data is essential for efficiently organizing urban elements and improving the quality of life. By this technology, the services work at greater performance at substantially reduced costs and resource consumption, which is what today’s global economy is all about – sustainable development.
Now that we know what smart cities are all about, let’s find out how they manage all this.
Smart Cities on a Smaller Scale
To better understand how smart cities work, let’s reduce the scale a little bit. We all know the smart homes, right? They’re essentially our homes with automated and interconnected utilities and other elements. Starting from simple light bulbs to complicated security systems, everything is connected to one single server that is then embedded in our controlling devices.
But mere control is not the biggest convenience here. Turning the lights on from the ‘Home app’ on your iPhone is great but there’s more to smart homes than that. These home elements, by being connected to a single server, are also interconnected to each other and seamlessly interchange the gathered information.
This enables the system to create an automated data exchange and ‘smart’ management. For example, when the system detects that your car is, say, 5 meters away from the garage and still moving towards it, it can automatically open the garage lid and also turn the lights on – all that without your intervention.
Internet of Things (IoT)
That’s basically how smart cities work on a much larger scale. The server here is called the Internet of Things (the IoT is also used in smart homes) and contains internet-connected devices from all across the city area. In the IoT, public, as well as private transport, waste management, schools, libraries, hospitals, even crime management systems, and even people, are connected to one another with wireless devices.
The data gathered from these connected elements are then used to monitor what’s happening in the city and how its systems are evolving. One example of this application is how traffic lights work.
Conventional traffic lights are based on time intervals for each lane to create a flow that’s fair to all sides. With smart sensors, however, the traffic lights can detect how overloaded one lane is in comparison to the intersecting lane. The one with more vehicles will get a green light to ‘drain’ itself and free up space. With the automation, the roads will be less overloaded with traffic and more time-efficient, and this goes for all urban systems across the board.
Smart Cities in Real World
Smart cities, with their interconnected elements and automated systems, are a great way of organizing the modern urban areas. And even though, its not that much implemented in the real world, there are some examples of smart cities (or their smaller models) that can be noted here. Let’s start with a smaller-scale model that has been implemented on University campuses.
Miniature Models on Campuses
Universities are the urban systems of their own, just on a smaller scale. And unlike cities, the campuses are much easier to implement new urban-management mechanisms like smart cities – in our case, smart campuses.
Smart campuses, just like smart cities, are areas with interlinked system elements. These elements range from libraries and cafeterias to transportation and digital wayfinding.
There are many real-world applications of smart campuses. For example, the University of Michigan has implemented a self-driving shuttle system along a two-mile route at its North Campus. The campus is already the Mcity experimental site for connected and automated vehicles, and by putting them to use for a student-transportation service, Mcity is benefitting its own research as well – the system will be much better able to collect real-world usage data, as well as user experience feedback from students.
Other universities also follow suit to the evolving campus-management trends. For instance, the University of Texas at Austin has a fully independent power grid system that generates its own energy with no dependence on the city’s main grid.
The US universities are not the only ones with smart campus technologies. Deakin University in Victoria, Australia has created its own AI-based virtual assistant, called Genie. Genie is like Alexa, or Siri, with university-type responses and layout. For example, it can tell students where their next lecture will be held and when, as well as how they’ll be able to get there in the shortest time possible. The same goes for other tasks, like class assignments, overdue library books, etc.
All in all, a smart campus is a great way to organize university areas with interconnected informational technologies and campus infrastructure.
Actual Smart Cities
Now, let’s move to the full-sized cities and see, how they have managed to implement smart city technology to improve their urban infrastructure.
One of the most prominent examples of the smart city is Barcelona. The city governance has covered the whole urban area with fiber optics that supports ultra-fast Wi-Fi speeds. With a high-speed connection, Barcelona quickly adopted IoT technology: by integrating water, light, and parking management, the IoT has made them ‘smarter’ in the sense that they’re much more efficient and effective. In fact, the city was able to save 75 million euros of city funds, as well as created some 47 thousand new jobs in a newly-emerged smart technology sector.
Another example is the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, the urban infrastructure such as public transport, energy usage, traffic, etc., are all connected to the IoT server. Furthermore, US cities like Baltimore and Boston have also implemented smart technologies. The smart trash can technology provides web-transmitted information about when the trash can will be full, as well as when it should be picked up and what’s the best route for sanitation workers.
In conclusion, these cities have already started integrating their infrastructure into the Internet of Things. By slowly converting into smart cities, they are constantly improving their management possibilities, as well as reduce the costs associated with it.
The Future is Already Here!
The smart city technology is already making its way into modern cities. Integrated and interconnected urban systems are opening new possibilities of efficient city-management prospects.
This might not have been possible a decade ago, but with the light-speed internet connections and improved covering technologies, the smart city implementation is closer than ever. This system, given that it takes our every-day lives a step forward, is increasing in demand across the world.
The cities like Barcelona and Amsterdam, as well as university campuses such as Michigan, Deakin, etc., show us that smart cities are not just a pipe-dream anymore. They’re here and they’re waiting for us!