Smart City Mobility

Smart cities, mobility, and the road in between

Smart City Location and Geospatial Technology

There was a time when people relied on paper maps and memory to navigate the world. Today, thanks to geospatial technology, you can use your smartphone to navigate cities easily and safely. While this is an amazing achievement, it is only the beginning of the use of geospatial technology in smart cities. Remote sensing technologies and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) allow smart cities to provide real-time location services. This includes public online maps, improved transport and utility services, and faster emergency response. When applied to agriculture and air monitoring systems, smart location solutions can help cities make the most of their resources while maintaining sustainable air quality. Read on to learn how smart location technologies work, and how they can benefit smart cities.

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What Is Geospatial Technology?

Humankind has been mapping the world since the beginning of time. From simple maps drawn in caves to satellite images powering geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS), the field of geospatial technology is constantly evolving.

Geomatics, or geospatial technology, is a field dedicated to information technology for the purpose of collecting, mapping, and analyzing spatial data of the Earth and its inhabitants. Geospatial technology makes the distribution of geographic data simple, easy, and effective.

Types of Geospatial Technologies

LiDar and Other Remote Sensing Technologies

Remote sensing is the process of collecting spatial data and images about faraway objects and people. There are two types of remote sensing:

  • Active remote sensing:  A signal is emitted by a satellite or aircraft, and when an object is present, the signal is reflected back by the object to the sensor on the satellite.
  • Passive remote sensing: The sensor detects the reflection of the sun on the object. The mere exposure of the object to the sun reveals it to the sensor.

A common form of active remote sensing is LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging). LiDAR measures distance by firing lasers at a target, and calculating the distance between objects by measuring the time it takes for the laser to hit an object and bounce back. It uses this data to create a 3D map or heat image.  

Additional technologies such as aerial cameras, sensor platforms, satellite imagery, and radar, aid in collecting geospatial information by eliminating distance restriction. Today’s geospatial technology enables detailed images with high resolution. Clear satellite images of small spaces may help monitor human rights abuses, for example, by providing evidence of genocide or showing what is happening in refugee camps.

Internet Mapping Technologies

While traditional geographic information systems have been helpful to specialists, the public wasn’t able to enjoy geospatial technologies until the introduction of Microsoft Virtual Earth, Google Earth, and the OpenStreetMap project. The simple user interface made it possible to share spatial data in a way that made sense to everyone.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Geographic information systems act as databases that collect, store, monitor, analyze, and share information. The system organizes information in layers and has two types of geographic information systems models. Raster models split images into a series of pixels. Vector models split images into a series of points. Each pixel or point is allocated a numeric value that represents a specific location on Earth. 

Layered map sets provide structured data about physical and cultural environments. With this information, geospatial digital platforms, maps, and datasets on socioeconomic and environmental phenomena are easier to understand, analyze, and communicate to the public.

Geographic information systems can be used to find patterns such as disease clusters, which could result from sub-optimal water access and toxins. Smart cities use geographic information systems for town planning, environmental conservation, geology, and archaeology.

Global Positioning System (GPS) and Internet Mapping Technologies

The global positioning system is the first global satellite navigation system of its kind. Launched in 1973 as an exclusive US military resource, the global positioning system now provides location information services for civilian applications. 

The GPS transmits a signal from four satellites to a GPS receiver on earth and then uses a mathematical process called triangulation to provide accurate positioning information. The US government provides GPS data for free, except for several countries such as Japan, Russia, China, India, and the European Union have developed their own satellite navigation systems.

How Smart Cities Use Geospatial Technology

As cities grow, they face challenges that can only be solved with the aid of technology.   Geospatial technologies help cities with a range of applications, from finding the fastest route to pinpointing the exact location of an emergency call. 

Geographic information systems can turn any information into an interactive and user-friendly map. When information is made available to the public for free, more users join the system and share data that helps improve the system. Smart cities use big data tools to integrate, visualize, and communicate information.

Geospatial technologies wrap up data in a simple manner that helps improve health care, law enforcement, and government efficiency. Free data and resources encourage business and science innovations that power up the economy. For example, the Canadian city of Hamilton launched an interactive web map called SPIDER (Spatially Indexed Engineering Records) that helps share engineering records with staff and city partners, to promote city renewal projects. 

LiDAR Remote Sensing Technology

LiDAR is most known for its use in high-resolution maps, but it has many more applications. The 3 key LiDAR applications for smart cities are:

  • Smart Agriculture: LiDAR helps agricultural planners develop 3D models of farmlands and render accurate maps of the land and surrounding natural resources. LiDAR enables precision in agriculture by easily identifying soil type, forecasting yields, and monitoring crops. 
  • Autonomous Vehicle LiDAR: Gives self-driving cars the ability to navigate safely, aided by 360 degrees of visibility and accurate depth perception. LiDAR-equipped autonomous cars can detect objects and people with the aid of laser sensors. The car turns the data into 3D maps of the surroundings and generates predictions that orient and control its movement.
  • Air Pollution Monitoring: Air quality influences an individual's quality of life in urban areas. By equipping LiDAR with the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, smart cities can gather precise information about pollution and smog. The accumulated data can be used to detect patterns, for example, and find areas where air quality is better. Then you can distribute residential construction accordingly.

Application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Internet Mapping Systems in Smart Cities 

Geographic information systems help plan, develop, and operate smart cities. During the planning and development stages, the geographic information systems serve as data analysis and visualization platforms that represent a detailed model of the smart city. Internet mapping systems help cities organize and share important information with the public, such as public transportation schedules and future construction plans.

Smart city geographic information systems form an integrated platform that provides open communication between real-time spatial tools. For example, field crews can use their smartphones to record infrastructure that needs repair, send the live feed to employees located at the office.

Benefits of Geographic Information Systems for smart cities:

  • Increases efficiency in public services and utilities: Creates an open channel of communication between stakeholders, city departments, and crews. Employees of the public and private sectors can use the system to collect, monitor, share, and analyze spatial data. Cloud technologies make the geographic information system accessible from anywhere.
  • Creates public maps: These maps are used to better inform citizens. Interactive web maps provide a real-time and user-friendly navigation platform and can inform citizens about city planning and allocation of land for public and private use.
  • Assists emergency response: Maps any information and turns it into a live, interactive spatial system. Officials can use the system to map out danger zones and send live updates. From mapping the spread of disease to mapping a search and rescue zone, and letting collaborators share live map updates.
  • Improves public transportation systems: Geospatial technologies can be used together or individually to solve transport problems. Satellite images, for example, provide a detailed view of routes that may serve for planning new roads and bridges. Interactive maps help commuters report traffic issues and choose the fastest route. 

GPS Technology in Smart Cities

  • GPS fleet tracking: Integrates hardware and software to monitor real-time fleet activity. GPS fleet tracking systems can record driving habits, create status reports, and send real-time incident and event alerts. With the GPS fleet tracking system acting as the command center, daily operations of the fleet become faster and more efficient. 
  • Smart waste management: GPS trackers, aided by remote sensing systems, help reduce drivers' workload by providing accurate routes for garbage trucks. The GPS tracker identifies the closest garbage container and sends the driver on the fastest route

Who Owns Location Data? A Challenge in the Digital Age

Smart cities are increasingly leveraging location data to optimize operations and improve services. There is a multi-way flow of geospatial information, from cities to citizens, from citizens and city partners, and back to cities. Geospatial information also flows from all parties involved into centralized information systems, which power advanced services, apps, and automation. 

While highly beneficial, this distribution of location data raises many concerns. Do cities have excessive access to personal location data that can compromise the privacy of citizens? Are municipalities giving away data that might be used detrimentally? Geospatial information can be used to plan criminal or terrorist activity.

Public discussion is needed to decide who should control and regulate these processes: which information is shared, by whom, where it is stored and how is it used. Checks and balances must be put in place to protect privacy, safety, and the integrity of critical city information. 

Information is today’s most valuable commodity. Entities that process, store, and transmit information need to be compliant with privacy and security regulations. This is especially crucial for large cities, which will soon be responsible for the health and safety of the majority of the earth’s population.