Introduction to Smart Cities: Page 2 of 14

The definition of a smart city

A smart city uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance its livability, workability and sustainability. In simplest terms, there are three parts to that job: collecting, communicating and “crunching.” First, a smart city collects information about itself through sensors, other devices and existing systems. Next, it communicates that data using wired or wireless networks. Third, it “crunches” (analyzes) that data to understand what’s happening now and what’s likely to happen next.

Collecting data. Smart devices are logically located throughout the city to measure and monitor conditions. For instance, smart meters can measure electricity, gas and water usage with great accuracy. Smart traffic sensors can report on road conditions and congestion. Smart GPS gear can pinpoint the exact locations of the city’s buses or the whereabouts of emergency crews. Automated weather stations can report conditions. And the mobile devices carried by many city dwellers are also sensors that can – when specifically authorized by their users to do so – collect their position, speed, where they cluster at different times of the day and the environmental conditions around them. Smart phones also gauge an always-local, perpetually renewable but inherently limited natural resource – radiofrequency spectrum – that smart cities depend on and will ultimately need to manage.

A smart city, then, is one that knows about itself and makes itself more known to its populace. No longer do we have to wonder if a street is congested – the street reports its condition. No longer do we have to wonder if we’re losing water to leaks – the smart water network detects and reports leaks as soon as they occur. No longer do we have to guess the progress of the city’s garbage trucks – the trucks report where they’ve been already and where they are headed next.

Communicating data. Once you’ve collected the data, you need to send it along. Smart cities typically mix and match a variety of wired and wireless communications pathways, from fiber-optic to cellular to cable. The ultimate goal is to have connectivity everywhere, to every person and every device. Interoperability is a key requirement.

Crunching data. After collecting and communicating the data, you analyze it for one of three purposes: 1) presenting, 2) perfecting or 3) predicting. If you’ve read about “analytics” or “Big Data,” then you may already know about the astonishing things that become possible by analyzing large amounts of data. Importantly, analyzing data turns information into intelligence that helps people and machines to act and make better decisions. This begins a virtual cycle wherein data is made useful, people make use of that data to improve decisions and behavior, which in turn means more and better data is collected, thereby further improving decisions and behavior.

Presenting information tells us what’s going on right now. In the aerospace and defense industries, they call this “situational awareness.” Software monitors the huge flow of incoming data, then summarizes and visualizes it in a way that makes it easy for human operators to understand. For instance, a smart operations center can monitor all aspects of an emergency situation, including the actions and locations of police, fire, ambulances, traffic, downed power lines, closed streets and much more.