Smart City Mobility

Smart cities, mobility, and the road in between

Smart city technologies: role and applications of big data and IoT

Smart cities around the world are implementing initiatives to promote greener and safer urban environments, with cleaner air and water, better mobility and efficient public services. These initiatives are supported by technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data analytics, that form the base of the smart city model.

In this article:

What makes a city smart

Smart cities leverage technology solutions to improve city services and the living experience of residents. Municipalities use IoT sensors, networks, and applications to gather relevant data, such as traffic congestion, energy usage, and air quality.

This data can then be used by technological solutions to improve city services, including utilities, transportation, and public services.

 

Major smart city technologies

Cities around the world are becoming smarter. They are implementing initiatives to promote greener and safer urban environments, with cleaner air and water, better mobility and efficient public services. These initiatives are supported by smart technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that provide the technical framework to implement smart city projects.

1. Big data and IoT in smart cities
IoT is an essential technology without which smart city initiatives cannot exist. The “things” of the IoT━devices, sensors, applications━collect the data that enables the technology solutions to be effective. For example, smart water meters reporting water quality and usage, alerting the water company of leaks, or potential contamination.

That said, smart city initiatives need big data analytics to function. The IoT generates huge datasets that must be analyzed and processed to implement smart city services. Big data platforms, part of the city ICT infrastructure, have to sort, analyze and process the data gathered from the IoT.

City governance integrates ICT solutions to interconnect public services, at the same time engaging communities in local governance, thus promoting cooperation. One example of this is the Greater London Authority initiative, where city hall is using an open, common platform to share data with local communities.

Examples of application of IoT in smart cities include:

  • City lighting━cities such as London and Quebec are installing smart street lighting. The intelligent street lights function as wifi hotspots, come equipped with a surveillance camera, charging outlets for electric cars and phones, and even measure the air quality. This multitasking street light works as a sensor and an actuator, providing services that better the quality of life of the residents while collecting important data about the environment.
  • Waste management━cities are applying technologic solutions to achieve a cleaner environment and reduce waste. For example, Songdo district in South Korea is reducing noise pollution eliminating garbage trucks altogether. Buildings have a smart garbage collection station where residents dispose of the trash bags, separated by organic and combustible. The station is equipped with sensors that detect when is full. The trash is automatically sent through high- pressure pipes straight to the recycling center.
  • Connected public transport—sensors in public transportation send traffic data to the city transportation management software. They tell you in real-time how long you have to wait for the bus or train, alerting the system traffic congestion or delays.

2. Sensors
Sensors are at the core of every device in the IoT system. From connected cars to traffic lights and smart homes, almost every device today has sensors that gather and send data to the cloud. This interconnectivity is what makes possible the Internet of Things system.

For example, proximity sensors make possible the development of automated vehicle systems. Smart cities use sensors to measure a myriad of values from traffic congestion to pollution levels, water quality, and energy usage.

3. 5G Connectivity
Smart city technologies require connectivity to work. 5G cells provide urban areas with a strong connection between millions of devices and sensors, enabling the IoT to work efficiently. Therefore, cities like London are installing 5G cells across the city, using drones to identify available spaces.

4. Geospatial technology
Urban planning requires geolocation accuracy and detailed geographic data. Smart cities rely on technologies such as Global Positioning System (GPS) for transportation management and connected vehicles. The Geographical Information System (GIS) helps city planners to build an urban digital model with georeferenced data.

This enables building engineers, for example, to determine the best route for bicycle lanes or where to locate multimodal transport stations. In the case of new cities such as Belmont, USA, city planners use geospatial technologies to design residential and urban areas in a way that promotes walking commuting.  

5. Robotics
Robots left sci-fi movies to become part of everyday life. The integration of robotics aims to improve city operations, such as using drones for postal services. Cities such as Dubai, Singapore and Tokyo are at the forefront of this trend, introducing humanoids for services such as room service in hotels, surveillance and to attend the information desk at public offices.  

For example, visitors to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are going to get help to communicate in Japanese from humanoid robotic translators. Meanwhile, in Dubai,  Robocop is not a fantasy anymore, since the city is testing humanoid police officers with the intention to replace 25 percent of their police force by 2030.

 

The role of big data in smart city projects

Smart cities are by definition, data-driven. Big data and analytics play an important role in city management, with many a city having now a Chief Data Officer in the administration. The combination of big data analysis and smart city solutions help cities improve the management in critical segments such as:

Big data for smart city energy
Major cities are experiencing the challenge of managing power usage efficiently. The implementation of smart grids allows city officers to analyze the power consumption in real-time. Using data analytics, they can predict periods of heavy usage and plan the energy distribution accordingly. Solar energy plants can install smart sensors to check the panels for maintenance.

Big data for smart city transportation
A smart transport infrastructure uses big data and IoT technologies to provide residents with access to faster and safer travel across the city. At the same time, it gives city authorities data about traffic flow allowing them to manage the transit efficiently.

Usually, a smart city transportation system consists of an Intelligent Transportation Network (ITN). The network usually includes:

  • A transportation management system— that optimizes the traffic flow of public transportation. Ideally, the system should include all mobility options, including micro-mobility and sharing transportation modes.
  • A vehicle control system—that ensures safety and prevents accidents by monitoring and alerting about road conditions.
  • An electronic timetable and route information system—mostly in the form of real-time displays at bus stops and train stations. This, combined with a mobility application, informs consumers of the available transportation options and the conditions of the routes.
  • A single rechargeable fare card—to travel using all available public transport options. An example of this is the Oyster card in London.

Big data for smart city infrastructure
Smart cities share one characteristic, all use sensor data to improve city management. Big data can help cities to monitor and manage urban issues such as waste disposal, transportation, and saving resources. To do that, the city needs to install sensors in the infrastructure, retrofitting or replacing outdated infrastructure when necessary.

To transform a city infrastructure in “smart”, the city manager should develop three layers of “smartness” as follows:

adoption by the population at large

 

  1. The tech base include networks of sensors and connected devices who gather data
  2. The second layer consists of the deployment of smart applications that process the raw data, translating it into alerts, insight, and actions.
  3. The third layer involves widely adopting the system by the residents.

 

Benefits of smart city solutions

According to this Mckinsey Global Institute report, for a city to be smart, it should use technology and data with the purpose of delivering a better quality of life. What consists of quality of life? While this is a subjective matter, most city residents agree that a good quality of life should include improvement in the following areas:

Public safety
Applications using real-time crime mapping, for example, use statistical analysis to detect crime patterns and identify problematic zones, predicting the incidence of crime. This allows police forces to reinforce security in these areas. One example was the trial of HunchLab, a predictive technology solution in New York City which significantly lowered crime.

Faster commutes
For most city residents, improving the daily commuting time is basic for a good quality of life. Cities that have smart-mobility applications in place can reduce commuting time by as much as 20 percent on average. Multimodal mobility solutions allow passengers to choose between all available transportation options. This results in lower car usage since residents can opt for the transportation mode that better suits them at the moment.

Economic prosperity
Smart cities tend to attract technology companies and talent. This, in turn, attracts venture capital to the cities. Cities like London and New York have received an influx of investment capital thanks to their smart initiatives.

Greener environment
Environmental concerns are at the core of every smart city strategy. Smart cities aim to reduce pollution and emissions, through smart urban planning and transportation management. When people walk and use multimodal mobility, the result is fewer cars on the streets, reducing emissions. Smart cities are also characterized by the smart management of their resources.

 

The bottom line

Smart city technologies and applications help cities to change into a greener, safer and effectively planned urban environment. It is no surprise then, that the smart city model is proving successful with over 50 smart cities around the world using smart technologies to improve the quality of life of its residents.

With more planned smart cities sprouting from America to Asia, the technologies that form the basis of the model will continue to evolve, with the technology industry developing newer applications and solutions for building the cities of the future.