With more of us living in cities than ever before, urban life is under pressure and it seems like there is more of everything – people, traffic, crime, energy use, pollution, congestion and waste.
Cities will have to get smarter to deal with all of this – but how do you tell if your city is smart? How do you know it is evolving to meet these challenges?
Like everything else in modern life, cities are becoming smarter. They are being transformed from collections of buildings, roads and utilities, into self-aware entities that manage themselves for the benefit of their human inhabitants. One basic need for all inhabitants is safety. In a smart city, this is achieved via situational awareness. Technology provides public safety services and authorities with the information they need, when they need it. This is essential for a safe city.
But if you were living in a smart city, how would you know? The buildings look the same, so what marks out a smart city from any other?
A smart city lives on data – from CCTV, people’s mobile phones, wind speed and temperature sensors, pollution detectors, radar speed detectors for traffic, GPS data for public transport and public safety vehicles and many others. Even satellite images can be used to detect changes or abnormalities in huge modern cities.
Combined with big data analysis techniques, this data helps a city plan and improve its services and infrastructure, from road layouts and parking, to hospital capacity, power provision and zoning for business and retail premises.
Does your city feel a better place to live in than it did a few years ago? Is air pollution reduced and congestion much less than it was? You may find it easier to get across town and have better information about transport and local weather. Crime hotspots may have reduced and you might live within walking distance of schools, shops and your place of work, cutting the need to use your car.
City dwellers need to travel, for work, school and leisure. From the suburbs, to the city centre, people travel in different ways – bicycles, buses, private cars and taxis, trams and subways all play their part, but are they simply left to trundle along, causing congestion and pollution? Many of us have got off a train to find that the bus we needed left two minutes before our train was scheduled to arrive.
Living in a smart city, you will find that traffic flows more freely because traffic lights and variable speed limits are controlled to reduce congestion and cut pollution from cars sitting with engines running. Signs will display the nearest car park and how many spaces it has. Detectors will ensure that cyclists are given priority over cars, so they can get away from junctions safely. All this requires reliable communication technology to transmit the information and technology to interpret it correctly – both available from Airbus.
Electric vehicles would have more charging points where they need them and would be given priority in city centers. Examples include Paris, which has developed a fleet of 3,000 electric vehicles. Cars are tracked via GPS and parking spaces can be booked from the dashboard. Trams, trains and buses will link up and drivers will be instructed to amend their speed to arrive at the best time to pick up passengers. In a smart city, you’ll get to your destination more quickly and conveniently than ever before.
Electricity, gas and water are the lifeblood of the city and using them well and efficiently is a major goal. Smart grids can take inputs from consumers and producers; the time of day, the weather conditions and major events can all be used to predict where and when the demand will occur. They help manage demand and supply to ensure that energy is both produced and consumed in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Smart grids need reliable communication and secure connections protected from cyber-attacks – solutions Airbus can provide.
District heating and cooling schemes and taking waste heat or spare power from one source and using it elsewhere are all examples of a smart city at work.
If your bills are more predictable, if your office generates its own power and sells some of it to the city at times of peak demand, your city is getting smarter.
Keeping its inhabitants safe is perhaps the first priority of any city. Smart cities are ahead of the game here. The basis is a capable, secure communications network based on digital technologies like TETRA or Tetrapol. These secure networks can be complemented with broadband to achieve a hybrid network. With police, paramedics, firefighters and hospitals all linked into the network and sharing voice channels and data, lives are saved and resources are used more efficiently.
City dwellers can help by sending in video of incidents or crimes, while virtual reality and augmented reality can put incident commanders right at the scene. Data on the types and location of crimes and social media posts can be analysed and patterns recognised, allowing police officers to patrol high risk areas.
You may see ambulances parked near accident black spots, or see police vehicles cleared through priority lanes to get to accidents quicker. Drones in the sky above a fire? Your fire department is using broadband technology to see all aspects of the incident and decide the best way to tackle it. When planning security of a large event, smart city officials can use imagery from drones and UAVs and even satellite images. They can also analyse all the data from previous events to predict problems.
The common theme through all this is communications. A city needs to communicate over a robust network and integrate different sources of information to gain situational awareness if it wants to evolve to become a smart city - one that you’ll be glad you live in.