Since 1950, the number of people living in cities has increased over six-fold, from 751 million to over 4 billion in 2018. Cities are expected to add another 2.5 billion inhabitants between 2020 and 2050, posing an administrative challenge to city governments.
Smart city and the Internet of Things context
As more people migrate to cities, municipal urban planning departments are under increased strain to sustainably provide high-quality, dependable public services. As a result, many cities are considering smart city investments in modernized digital tracking and management networks to help them administrate their resources and services. Among the technologies enabling these networks are devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).
The IoT is a collection of computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people equipped with unique identifiers and the capability to transfer data over an integrated network without requiring human-to-computer or human-to-human interaction. In the context of cities, IoT devices such as linked meters, street lighting, and sensors are used to collect and analyze data, which is then used to improve the administration of public utilities, services, and infrastructure.
As of 2021, Europe is the world’s reported forerunner in innovative city development. The European Union has been proactive in encouraging its member countries to establish smart cities, with the European Commission setting aside $395 million USD in September 2021 to do so. For example, public transport vehicles in Paris are increasingly linked to the city’s digital systems to improve traffic flows, with similar upgrades also permeating into privately owned vehicle markets regionally.
As more municipalities adopt IoT technologies, novel applications are being invented that may improve urban quality of life metrics. For example, IoT air quality sensors in many Chinese cities are used to track local air quality metrics and alert urbanites through smartphone push alerts when pollutant levels become dangerously high. Through this service, the public can avoid lengthy exposure to toxic environments and lower their risk of respiratory illnesses and infections.
Meanwhile, smart electricity grids could allow urban electricity providers to optimize electricity provision and supply to residents and businesses, lowing operating costs and improving operational efficiencies. Improved power usage could reduce urban greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-based power facilities. Likewise, some cities provide residential energy storage units and solar panels to residents linked to the smart grid. These batteries reduce grid stress during peak hours by allowing homeowners to store energy during off-peak hours. Residents could also sell excess solar power back to the grid, allowing them to generate a passive income and maintain financial stability.
Implications of cities leveraging smart city IoT systems
The wider implications of more city administrations capitalizing on IoT technology may include:
- Reducing the risk of traffic accidents through the application of connected vehicles and smart traffic light systems.
- Optimizing public transport routes to reduce wait times and increase service to more urbanites. Similar optimizations for waste collection through smart waste management solutions.
- Reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 15 percent through the reduced production of fossil fuel-based electricity and optimization of electricity usage.
- Improved digital access to local government services and reduced response times for various public services.
- Privacy activities directing legal action and oversight to municipalities to ensure public data is not misused.
Questions to comment on
- Would you allow a city government to have access to your travel data if this travel data is used as part of traffic optimization efforts?
- Do you believe smart city IoT models can be scaled to a level where most cities and towns can realize their various benefits?
- What are the privacy risks associated with a city leveraging IoT technologies?