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Becoming a truly smart city – is it possible?

Anthony Sayers, Internet of Things Evangelist at Software AG, pinpoints the smart city initiatives that most inspire him.


There’s been a lot of noise around smart cities lately. We’re constantly hearing conversations around the benefits that they bring and futuristic visions of what they might look like. When we think about a smart city, for many of us it’s a city in which the traffic flows smoothly, the air is clean and buildings make efficient use of resources such as power and water.


Whilst this paints an idyllic picture in our minds, how close to becoming truly smart are we?


How close to becoming truly smart are we? The answer is that not many cities are truly smart.


The answer is that not many cities are truly smart and we still have a fair way to go. Many cities may have smart traffic lights and are improving their technology in government offices to make citizens’ lives easier – however, more needs to be done.


Pioneering smart city projects


This is about to change and Abu Dhabi is leading the race in becoming the smartest city in the world. According to McKinsey it is already considered the smartest in the Middle East. This is thanks to its technology base, with “a critical mass of smartphones and sensors connected by high-speed communication networks,” and its use of specific applications that can turn raw data into alerts.


Abu Dhabi is getting even smarter, thanks to its smart city project (with partner Technology Strategies Middle East). The Abu Dhabi City Municipality launched the pilot phase of the five-year Zayed project for smart cities and artificial intelligence earlier this year to validate key use cases and its viability.


The pioneering, city-wide project is designed to digitally transform the environmental, social and financial aspects of urban life. The project envisions the future, drives innovation and provides a “best-in-the-world” infrastructure.


It includes ten use-cases: air quality monitoring, asset tracking and logistics monitoring, structural health monitoring, water metering, palm tree weevil detection, street lighting, smart parking, waste management, water storage tank monitoring and swimming pool monitoring.


Smarter initiatives


During London Tech Week, Mayor Sadiq Khan launched a major initiative to make the city smarter. Khan has created a new London Office of Data Analytics (LODA), which will promote data sharing among public services, and foster closer working between local authorities, universities and the tech community.


The London Office of Data Analytics (LODA) will promote data sharing among public services, and foster closer working between local authorities, universities and the tech community.


Mayor Khan has five “missions” in the quest to make London smarter: more user-designed services; striking a new deal for city data as part of the LODA initiative; creating world-class connectivity and smarter streets; enhancing digital leadership and skills, and improving city-wide collaboration with a London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) to support common capabilities and standards for future innovation.


There’s no denying that London has some of the worst traffic and air pollution in Europe. Drivers spend an average of 110 hours stuck in traffic (on top of their usual commute time). That’s 45 minutes per day and contributes to making tackling London’s air pollution one of Khan’s biggest challenges.


Becoming a “smart city”


In most major cities, traffic becomes heavier each year. This contributed to telecommunications company POST Luxembourg putting the “smart” into “smart city” with an ambitious roll-out of Internet of Things (IoT) services.


It took POST Luxembourg less than six weeks to build a fully customised and secure IoT offering which connects all parts of a city or enterprise property, providing the ability to monitor what and where anything is happening, and improving security and energy efficiency.


Digital Darmstadt


Elsewhere in Europe, Germany launched a competition to find which of its cities is the most ideal model of a digital city. In total, 14 mid-sized cities across Germany applied for the title.


The Hessian city of Darmstadt won. Consequently, areas such as the transport sector, energy supply, schools and healthcare are being equipped with the latest digital technologies. In addition, the public administration will add innovative online applications and intelligent delivery services.


Telecommunications networks will also be expanded and improved. Intelligent traffic control, 5G networks, governmental e-services for citizens, smart hospitals and autonomous driving projects will all be implemented over the next two years. Darmstadt has a unique opportunity to implement a data platform that will monitor, control and analyse various processes linked to its administrative duties. And its residents will profit from a range of new digital services, making living in the city easier and more comfortable. The digital transformation of this city will likely become a lighthouse project for Europe.


The digital transformation of Darmstadt will likely become a lighthouse project for Europe.


In addition, multimodal e-mobility will become a reality. There will be a free choice between all kinds of public and individual transportation systems, ensured by close cooperation between energy providers, public transport providers, vehicle manufacturers and rental car companies.


The cost of a smart city


Of course, not every project can be paid for in this way. Experts estimate that cities around the world will invest a total of about $41 trillion over the next 20 years to upgrade their infrastructure to benefit from the network of connected devices (IoT).


However, the question remains: where will this money come from? Up-front funding will inevitably remain a challenge, but the return on investment should make it more appealing for governments and investors.


If one thing is for sure, it’s that once cities receive the funding to become smart – the benefits are second to none. Smart cities are able to better manage resources and deliver governmental services at greater speed – all at lower operational costs. In fact, by gathering data continuously from IoT devices, the city can then sell this on at profitable rates.


It really is a no brainer. Why would a city not want to take advantage of these kinds of benefits? By implementing smarter technologies and becoming truly smart, we can all benefit from an easier, cleaner and more comfortable life.


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