What IoT and smart governments will mean for you

ne of the next big targets of the digital age is the city. The combination of technology paired with physical infrastructure and services can simplify the lives of residents. That’s the promise of the “smart city.”

The concept is the result of the ever-expanding Internet of Things (IoT), with transportation, utilities, and law enforcement among the many areas being impacted. This is the ideal time for such technology, since more than 60% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, according to a report from Cisco Systems.

Early adopters of smart city technologies include the European cities of Barcelona and Amsterdam. The concept has quickly spread into other countries, with Copenhagen, Dubai, Singapore, Hamburg, and Nice, France following suit, and U.S. cities are also getting smarter with San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Miami and San Antonio among those adding capabilities.

Companies such as Cisco, IBM, Intel, Silver Spring Networks, Build.io, GE Lighting and Siemens are among those providing smart city solutions worldwide.

Austin Ashe, manager of Intelligent Environment for Cities at GE Lighting, said, “Everyone has their own definition of an intelligent city. To us, an intelligent city is a city that can collect data efficiently and bring it in a way that is meaningful to them. It can enhance revenue, or ultimately offer citizens new services that they never before had.”

Anil Menon, Cisco’s deputy chief globalization officer, said, “A smart city is a city that uses digital technologies or information and communication technologies—connected via an intelligent network—to address challenges within city communities and across vertical industries. These challenges may include parking, traffic, transportation, street lighting, water and waste management, safety and security, even the delivery of education and healthcare. A smart city relies on technological solutions that enhance its existing process to better support and optimize the delivery of urban services, to reduce resource consumption and contain costs, and to provide the means and the opportunities to engage actively and effectively with its citizens, with its visitors and with its businesses.”

Traffic, parking and streetlights

One of the most helpful aspects of a smart city is using technology to ease traffic and parking woes. Sensors in the street can be used to determine if a parking spot is empty, and anyone who accesses an app on a smartphone can find out in real time the location of the closest parking spot.

In San Francisco, this option is available within the city’s parking garages, and the city is hoping to expand it to monitor open spots on the streets as well, said Nishant Patel, founder and CTO of Built.io, and a member of the board of advisors for the city of San Francisco’s Connected City initiative. Patel advises the city asit explores IoT use cases defining the next generation of enabling technologies.

Helping drivers find a parking spot more quickly can have a significant impact on traffic patterns. In Barcelona, there are sensors embedded in the city’s streets to alert users on where to find open parking spots and traffic has been reduced because there are fewer people circling the block. This naturally helps the environment, because with fewer cars circling the city’s streets, there are lower carbon dioxide emissions and less fuel is wasted.

Cities can increase revenues by more closely monitoring parking, and there are several other conveniences stemming from HD cameras in smart streetlights and parking sensors, said Steve Durbin, managing director of the Information Security Forum in London.

“There are sensors in the roads so that you don’t need to worry about paying for your parking because the sensors will determine how long you’re parking there. Cities will also be able to clear away accidents much more quickly since they won’t need to wait for tape measurements. And they can link this information to insurance companies and claims so that they can be processed much more quickly. A lot of those things are seen and perceived as benefits in a smart city environment,” Durbin said.