In its relatively brief history, the internet has transcended time and space to connect human beings. Now, it’s on the verge of doing the same thing for urban environments. Cities are expanding across the globe, to the point where nearly three quarters of the earth’s population will live in metropolitan areas by 2050. This growth will put greater strains upon infrastructures that are already grossly inefficient. Buildings currently account for most of the energy use in the United States, while transportation produces significant greenhouse gas emissions. Public services will falter under this strain unless we address their inefficiencies today.

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may offer the solution. This concept dictates that devices and appliances with built-in sensors can communicate with one another using a standard internet connection. This will allow us to automate many aspects of our environment, including the amount of energy we use, the temperatures of our dwellings, and even the traffic in our streets.

 

Obviously, this idea offers a range of relevant applications for urban spaces. But politicians and urban planners have to act now if they want to build the most efficient smart cities. These areas would reduce unnecessary waste and offer services that are more responsive, creating a more sustainable and enjoyable environment.

What Are the Benefits of Smart Cities?

Smart cities represent an exciting synergy of environmental and economic benefits. When users can automate their resource consumption with smart technology, they’ll reduce their utility bills while conserving energy. This can even manifest in unexpected ways. A greater reliance on automated systems will make companies more productive and cause workers’ roles to change, diversifying their skill sets. Workplaces will become safer, while transportation systems will make commuting to and from work easier. Each of these benefits will lead to greater worker satisfaction, and therefore more output.

 

Boston has emerged as a model for these environments in the past few years, achieving greater energy efficiency while making life more convenient for its citizens. Some neighborhoods are already using smart grid technology to monitor energy use and maximize efficiency, while residents have been granted free, high speed access online. Furthermore, the city has released smartphone apps that use citizens’ smartphones as sensors, reducing the implementation costs of these initiatives while expanding their reach.

 

Along their new streetcar line, Kansas City has the most dense implementation of smart city technology in the United States. Sensors on light poles report where street parking is available; control traffic signals automatically based on vehicle and pedestrian traffic; dim street lighting after hours; and listen for gunshots, reporting to law enforcement the location with pinpoint accuracy.

What Disadvantages Do They Present?

A lack of interoperability is the biggest obstacle facing any potential smart city. The Internet of Things relies on interconnected devices to function properly. However, the companies that produce these devices don’t follow any overarching standards that dictate how they communicate with one another. This fundamentally threatens the entire process, since these appliances and instruments need to connect with one another to function properly. If industries can establish these standards, the implementation costs could be reduced by up to 30%.

 

Smart cities also present significant cyber security risks, according to San Diego Chief Information Security Officer Gary Hayslip. When companies attempt to attach new technologies to existing infrastructure, it may create an opening that cyber criminals and hackers can exploit. In addition, any problems that come built into new devices will have a greater effect on day-to-day operations. You may have thought you were in danger when your iPhone 6 was vulnerable to zero-day attacks, but imagine the horror you’ll feel if this happens to a government agency thanks to poorly implemented interconnections.

How Much Does It Cost?

As we mentioned before, the cost of turning a metropolitan area into a smart city varies depending on the interconnectivity of the devices and the scope of the project. Many cities begin with modest plans, building out from the urban core where user density is high. Often, this begins with streetlight replacement initiatives. Older HID lamp technology is giving way to LEDs, which offer better light quality, control, maintenance, and energy consumption. The incremental cost of embedding smart city sensors and technology into new street lighting is far less than beginning from scratch.  

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