Rapidly improving technology capabilities. Many of the smart city drivers listed above are negatives – problems that demand solutions. There are positive drivers as well, especially the rapid progress in technology. The costs of collecting, communicating and crunching data have plunged. What’s more, much of the needed technology is already in place:
- Over the last decade, many regions have begun to modernize their electric power grids and, to a lesser extent, their water and gas networks. Hundreds of millions of smart meters and smart sensors are now in place, producing data of value to a smart city.
- With the arrival of smart thermostats and building management systems, there are now millions of buildings with some of the pieces needed to be smart, on the cusp of being able to ‘talk’ and ‘listen.’
- The reduced costs of solar energy and renewables systems (distributed generation) is increasing adoption rapidly in homes and businesses. By balancing these new resources with the grid, cities can increase their energy sustainability.
- On the health and human services front, we’re seeing better access to healthcare with in-home consultations via computer. Meanwhile most agencies are switching to electronic records and many are using analytics to improve results.
- Our highways and byways are becoming smarter thanks to intelligent transportation management software, roadway sensors and smart parking apps. Navigation apps and equipment display real-time traffic so users can find – and even be automatically pointed to – less congested alternatives. And we are seeing more electric vehicles on our roads which help reduce pollution and our dependence on oil.
- Over the last two decades, we have deployed high-bandwidth networks worldwide that connect one billion computers and four billion cell phones. These networks are already in place in almost all major cities and can be leveraged for smart city applications.
- An increasing number of cities are starting to benefit from a large network of Near-field Communication (NFC) equipped point of sales with the roll-out of contactless cards. technology. It means hundreds of merchants are already capable of accepting mobile payments and wallets for seamless consumer experience and value added services, but also cashless cities are able to reduce frauds and benefiting from better insights on their citizen purchasing journeys.
Let’s consider that final example in more detail. It’s important to realize that today’s ubiquitous smartphones are becoming both a “delivery platform” and a “sensor network” for smart city applications. The delivery platform is obvious – a smartphone is a great place for a resident to receive alerts and access city services. But today’s smartphones can also be leveraged to collect information when the user agrees to share data. For instance, one smartphone launched in 2013 has the following sensors: a GPS locator, a microphone, a gyroscope, a light sensor, a camera, an accelerometer, a barometer, a thermometer, a magnetometer and a hygrometer.
“By the end of the decade, many infrastructure technologies – smart meters, intelligent traffic systems, building energy management – will be deployed across North America and Europe and, increasingly, in the rest of the world,” says Navigant Research analyst Eric Woods. Once in place, that technology provides the basis for a wide range of innovative smart city applications and services.