What Happens When Our Cities Start Talking?

Cities are epicenters of creativity, innovation, adventures, energy, and life. They're moving, breathing, and living. Cities have a heart, personality, and looks. But a city lacks one thing: a voice. Thanks to the Internet of Things, this is quickly changing.
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Cities are epicenters of creativity, innovation, adventures, energy, and life. They're moving, breathing, and living. Cities have a heart, personality, and looks. But a city lacks one thing: a voice.

Every inch of a city has a story to tell. It hosts a park, a sidewalk, a café, a dark alley, a parking meter. It hosts a baby to be born, a streetlight to burn out, a traffic jam, a farmer's market, a crime about to happen.

The city has been speechless since it's existence, begging for others to speak on its behalf. Sometimes it's misinterpreted. Sometimes it takes days or weeks to be heard. And sometimes, it never is.

Thanks to the Internet of Things--which refers to technology that connect and shares data from actual physical "things," such as buses, light bulbs, a refrigerator, or a parking space--this is quickly changing. Most of it lies within sensors or other "sensing" devices, such as cameras, which collect data. The Internet then passes on the data, and web and mobile applications to then turn the data into easy-to-understand and actionable information.

The Internet of Things creates a connected city that can talk. The connected city is proactive and efficient, able to take immediate action automatically or by alerting city officials and/or residents and visitors. It's intelligent, has common sense, learns from previous experiences, modifies and creates infrastructure and policy, and makes decisions via advanced analytics that monitor elements 24x7x365. It innovates, tries new things, and measures results to see if goals are met.

We're only just beginning to see the impacts of the connected city. It is smart grids that measure energy and water consumption. It is enabling building thermostats to learn temperature preference patterns, times, and seasons to adjust automatically. It can detect and analyze the amount of pedestrians and drivers in city areas to improve economic vitality. It can combine this passerby data with other data - crime, pollution, or passerby emotions - to provide deeper analysis from multiple sensing devices so that cities and businesses can thrive. It's on its way to a connected car that makes the driver smarter and safer - one that alerts of mechanical problems, reroutes around traffic, and knows where an open parking spot is. The connected city may also someday automatically detect illness, such as West Nile Virus containing mosquitos, a small tumor, or drug-resistant bacteria on a subway.

Once the Internet-enabled sensing platform is in place, further sensing components can easily be added to increase collected information, enable city systems to talk to and base their actions on one another, and reduce network operation costs.

At Streetline, we're taking the first step to the connected city with smart parking. Smart parking puts the Internet of Things in action, and often serves as the first connected initiative, thus providing the network backbone. By leveraging sensors embedded in parking spots, we help cities manage this scarce real estate asset. At the same time, we help consumers find that elusive parking spot and help businesses make it easier for customers to come to their stores.

In Citi, we've been fortunate to find a partner that not only believes in our vision of a connected world, but who is helping us to bring this technology to cities around the globe. Los Angeles County, for example, has over 7.4 million registered cars, but only a fraction of that number of parking spaces. The issue isn't simply parking, though. Driving around to look for a space can increase CO2 emissions. And if they can't find a spot, frustrated drivers leave, which is bad for local businesses.

Streetline has technology that helps people find parking spaces with a free app called Parker. But cities need funding to make it practical to adopt. Working with Citi, we've been able to develop financial options to reduce the up-front cost. Citi has deep and long-standing relationships with cities, both large and small. Working closely with Citi bankers we are able to bring together the CFO and Treasurer of a City, with the Head of Transportation or Parking to have the first ever strategic dialogue around the topic of Smart Parking. With Citi, we have been able to bring our innovative solutions to market faster and broader than we would have ever done by ourselves.

With sensor costs rapidly decreasing, partners like Citi, and the demand for Big Data by government and residents alike, the Connected City will likely be the biggest revolution since some of the largest earlier inventions including the wheel, train, vehicle, telephone, and electricity.

As a start-up our goals are high--we want to change the way people work and live in cities and towns across the world through smarter parking. We cannot do this alone and are delighted that we have a partner in Citi to help us on this journey.