“The successful cities of the future are going to be smart cities”. – Sir Andrew Cahn (Non-Executive Director, Huawei UK)

Experts predict that, by 2050, 68% of the population will live in urban areas. These urban areas ought to keep up pace with growing populations, and they must adapt to residents’ changing needs. Contemporary cities are struggling to cater for these growing populations. It is time we repurpose our vision for the future and make cities smarter by building Smart Cities. Simply put, a Smart City is a city in which technology is used to improve, protect, and facilitate residents’ lives. 

What really makes a city smart? 

Collecting data is at the heart of smart cities. This data is used alongside various technologies and developments to keep the residents connected and the city alive. In a Smart City, technology is used in an extremely complex system that is continuously improved and updated based on the residents’ needs. These needs are identified by experts, as well as through communication with the public. One huge benefit of Smart Cities is that they are capable of improving and learning. They can, therefore, always provide the most and the best resources to the residents.  

Smart cities in action

There are numerous benefits to living in a Smart City. Let’s take a look at a few of them!

Public transport

Imagine taking the bus to work and arriving in a good mood because you didn’t have to wait 10 minutes for the bus to roll up. You weren’t pushed around on a packed bus, and you weren’t stuck in traffic for 30 minutes. While this may seem just a dream to many commuters, this is not far off reality in some Smart Cities.

Here are some ways technology is used to improve travel with Smart Cities:

Real-time timetables

Providing a real-time and digital timetable of bus arrival times reduces waiting time for passengers. In case of traffic jams or accidents, the passengers are notified and aware of the delay, allowing them to better manage their time. By reducing the uncertainty around when a bus will arrive, digitalised and real-time timetables help residents feel less anxious, more empowered, and more in control of their lives.

(Check out the digital display timetables set up in Birmingham City Centre!)

Comfortable Eco-Travel

Comfortable and environmentally friendly travel is another characteristic of Smart Cities. Data collected through residents’ phones, camera control of the buses, and scanning of tickets help Smart Cities deploy the appropriate number of buses based on passenger requirements. This way, Smart Cities can find the golden balance between extremely packed and almost empty buses, and they can adjust the frequency of buses to travellers’ needs. For example, buses would come more often during commuting hours. Meanwhile, daytime buses could be reduced when demand is low. This both reduces carbon emissions and makes for a more comfortable commute.

Mobility

Smart Cities are great for car owners, too. Sensors built in to multi-story car parks make it easier to find a parking space. For example, many car parks display red and green lights to make it easy and quick to find a parking space. Sensors are built under the parking lots to sense when cars roll over. When a car rolls into a space, the sensor turns from green to red.  The same happens when cars reverse; the sensors detect that the weight is no longer present and signal this to the light, which thus turns green. This sensor technology is beneficial because it reduces the stress of finding a parking space not only for commuters, but also for people who enjoy shopping, visiting the cinema, or going on a date.

Traffic Light Management  

Better management and synchronisation of traffic lights allow drivers to reach their destinations quicker and more gas effectively. Several Smart Cities have installed smart traffic lights, which scan the flow of traffic and identify which direction has the heaviest traffic. The sensors allow a longer green light from the direction with the most cars, and potentially miss giving green to those directions where no cars are waiting. This minimises traffic congestion, as cars do not have to wait as long for a green light.

It is important for drivers to be intentional about stopping within the sensor’s range when smart lights are in use. If cars stop outside the light’s sensor, the green light will not be triggered immediately. If they stop outside the sensor’s range but want to trigger the green light quickly, drivers should reposition their cars or wait until the light automatically turns green.

Smart lights help drivers reach their destinations quicker and waste less gas waiting for lights to turn green. This reduces overall carbon emission and makes driving more enjoyable. Therefore, smart lights are not only user friendly, but environment-friendly too.

Pulling it all together

This article has introduced five technological developments that benefit residents of Smart Cities. Future articles might dive more deeply into further benefits of Smart Cities and examine what role 5G could play in building cities of the future. 

Smart cities are the way to go…

As with any major innovation, the idea of Smart Cities has generated both positive and negative attention. Despite the detractors, experts overwhelmingly agree that Smart Cities are nothing to be afraid of or sceptical about! Similarly, when credit cards were first introduced in the 1950s, people were sceptical about them and denied their benefits. Now, 70 years later, the vast majority of people own at least one credit card and believe the benefits outweigh the dangers. Just like credit cards, Smart Cities can bring such improvements to residents’ lives that outshine possible costs by offering unparalleled opportunities for technological development and advancement.

And that is exciting, indeed!

 

 

Reference list and suggested readings:

https://population.un.org/wup/Publications/Files/WUP2018-KeyFacts.pdf

https://ec.europa.eu/info/eu-regional-and-urban-development/topics/cities-and-urban-development/city-initiatives/smart-cities_en 

https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/capital-projects-and-infrastructure/our-insights/smart-cities-digital-solutions-for-a-more-livable-future 

https://www.thalesgroup.com/en/markets/digital-identity-and-security/iot/inspired/smart-cities 

https://eu-smartcities.eu/clusters/11/description 

http://digitalbirmingham.co.uk/service/smart-cities/ 

https://www.birminghamupdates.com/birmingham-is-one-of-britains-top-10-smartest-cities-in-the-second-uk-smart-cities-index/ 

https://www.information-age.com/the-uks-current-smart-city-developments-examined-123474013/ 

https://www.huawei.com/uk/news/uk/2017/huawei-uk-smart-cities-index 

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