The Smart Cities of the Future: 5 ways technology is changing our cities

Is your home smart? If your home is anything like mine, it is a lot smarter today than it was 10 years ago or five years ago. Smart lightbulbs, smart speakers, smart thermostats and smart speakers are all part of our smart homes. The trend towards intelligent spaces goes beyond our homes. Smart cities are becoming all around the globe.


What is smart city? Why do we need them.

Smart cities are those that use technology to improve efficiency and quality of life for residents. Smart city initiatives include power distribution, transport systems and street lights. It is a way to maximize the use of technology and data to improve everyday life for those who live and work in the area.

The UN predicts that 68% of the world’s population would live in urban areas by 2050. This means that cities face increasing environmental, societal and economic challenges. Smarter cities can help overcome these problems and make them more liveable. McKinsey Global Institute’s report found that smart city technology can improve key indicators of quality of life, such as daily commutes, health issues or incidents, by 10-30 percent.

All this is possible because of a “perfect storm” of technology trends. Trends that allow humans and technology to interact in a more connected, intelligent and automated manner. Trends such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, IoT (Internet of Things) and autonomous cars are all examples. These advances, when combined, are changing the way we live and see the world. Cities are not an exception.


How technology is changing the cities

I have written previously about smart city initiatives in my hometown of Milton Keynes. But let’s take a look at other examples of smart cities:


1. Traffic flow

Many city dwellers find traffic a major problem. However, technology has some promising solutions. Intelligent traffic light systems and public transport routes can both be adjusted according to demand. An AI-based smart “City Brain”, which is based on AI, has been used to reduce traffic jams in Hangzhou.


2. More efficient use of city resources

Telefonica, a mobile and broadband company, has invested heavily in smart-city technology in Spain. One example is sensors attached to refuse containers. This allows refuse collectors to see in real time the level of their bins. This allows KPIs to be tied more closely to the bottom-line impact of the project, such as how many bins will not be empty within the next few hours or how close they are to being overfilled. This is much more important than simply measuring abstract factors like the number of waste collection trucks on the road.


3. Energy efficiency improvements

Smart cities are not only able to invest in renewable energy sources but also have technology that can be used to closely monitor energy usage and reduce it. In Amsterdam for example, smart energy meters are installed in homes to encourage energy conservation. The city of Schenectady in New York has also upgraded its street lighting to LED technology. This allows them to adjust or dim the lights based on real time data.


4. Making cities safer

Cities can harness technology to increase resident safety and speed up incident response times thanks to Wi-Fi connectivity and IoT technologies. New Orleans’ real time video data from Bourbon Street can be analyzed to improve public safety and track and allocate resources.


5. Encourage greater collaboration between citizens

Smart city technology encourages residents to be more involved. This is one of the most exciting aspects. Apps that make it easier for citizens to report local problems or community networking platforms that enable neighbors to share resources and connect are two examples of common examples. A low-cost kit for environmental testing encourages residents to gather local data. To collect data about the local environment including noise and air pollution, the Smart Citizen Kit is placed on windowsills and balconies. The data is uploaded to an online platform and created a crowdsourced map with data from around the globe.

This shift towards smart spaces and smart places is one of 25 technology trends I believe will transform society.

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