The four key features of successful smart cities

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Smart cities are intended to improve quality of life, increase sustainability and create economic benefits through the use of digital technology. By 2050 there will be a predicted seven billion people living in urban areas, so it is vital that we implement green and viable resources, using technology to make our cities better and smarter.

Connectivity

Connectivity is at the heart of a successful smart city. The machines must be able to connect and communicate. Remote access by those monitoring and maintaining the infrastructure is also essential; people need to interact with the technology in order to reap the operational and financial benefits it offers (automatic alarms, remote diagnostic, reduced cost of dispatch and maintenance, etc.). Analysts and developers should be able to gather the data generated efficiently and in real time to develop innovative uses of this data and provide new insights.

Take pollution monitoring sensors as an example. Currently reference monitoring stations are bulky and costly pieces of equipment, with a relatively small number spread across cities making analysis on a street by street basis difficult to model. With increased cost-efficient connectivity, associated to advances in sensor technology and miniaturisation, existing stations could be supplemented with a network of low-cost portable environmental sensors installed on lampposts, traffic lights or buildings. This would give a much more granular view of pollution hot spots across a city and allow for appropriate action to be taken.

Increased connectivity allows the distribution of real time information and through that, leverages commercial opportunities by providing an audience to deliver targeted advertising and allowing the development of new and innovative services. Currently, mobile apps are already available to give commuters real-time information on their trains arrival time and allow the purchase of tickets. The same approach can be extended to any service and infrastructure for instance the querying and reservation of parking spaces.

Maximising efficiency

Creating a smart city can be an expensive business, but there are ways we can cut costs including making use of pre-existing infrastructure. Partnerships could also be formed between public and commercial entities to form the required networks.

Lampposts, building fronts, CCTV and columns are being used to extend WiFi, 3G and 4G availability. Infrastructure such as this can be of great interest to mobile and IoT operators in urban areas as a cheaper and simpler way to provide enhanced capacity or coverage on their own networks.

A successful smart city maximises efficiencies and creates synergies wherever possible. By promoting the cross marketing of infrastructure, councils could cut costs and disruption, and potentially receive better return on their investment. For example, if a street is undergoing road works to fix a pipe, another party could also lay cables or lines while the trench is open. Local authorities may have agreements with contractors and developers to, by default, add their own infrastructure in new developments or every time a trench is open by a third party with a view to building their asset base at low cost. Some local authorities are actively trying to promote such initiatives and work smarter this way.

Accurate records

To allow infrastructure sharing and partnerships, it is essential that accurate digital records are collated, a common problem in both the public and private sector with legacy infrastructure. The lack of accurate digital records on infrastructure location, its use, spare capacity, state, maintenance schedules and so on. can be a stumbling block to the commercialisation of these assets or the forming of partnerships.

Once the connectivity is in place, a successful smart city needs to have a system that allows feedback, retrieval of data and the capability of reacting to insight to make changes. The familiar and repeated pattern of test and learn.

The technology and infrastructure in truly smart city should be fully optimised with certainty over how much it is being used, how often and what for. Technology will allow the collect of a wealth of data which will inform on all variables – how is it run, when is it used, how much is it used, what is the cost of running it and what will the cost of maintenance be? Properly informed deployment means that pertinent data is used to inform the evolution of the city, and allows for the development of a three to five-year plan. Once this is in place, better informed and accurately targeted decisions can be taken on new investment.

Future proof

A living, breathing smart city must be future proofed. Effective planning will indicate where investment in infrastructure is needed, and on what scale. Open standards should be used for the selection of technology, rather than proprietary products, to avoid restrictions when attempting to increase interactions and interconnections with other organisations and systems. Backwards compatibility should also be considered to minimise the need to purchase new operating systems or technology to ensure the machines can communicate.

As our cities get smarter and take up of smart technology and services increases, people will expect them to be easily transitional. For example, a tourist or commuter will assume their technology, be it mobile, tablet or even driverless car, will work exactly as it does when they are in their hometown. To take the example of driverless cars, they need to speak to sensors to pick up information and allow machine-to-machine communication to take place. The car will need to be able to do this no matter what its origin is - a US car will need to be able to speak to sensors in the UK. This same degree of interoperable capability will be required from the infrastructure of a truly smart city. 

The smart city relies on a very large number of factors to make it truly connected and successful. It is vital that city planners start the process now to plan for integrated and thought-out smart city infrastructure that will benefit everyone that lives in, or passes through it in the not so distant future.

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