Quick Guide To Smart Cities

We are in the early days of a transformation of our cities from dumb to smart. Whether we know or like it our cities are being kitted up with sensors, cameras and all forms of data gathering devices. The technology that is used to collect, transmit, communicate, analyze and take action on data is what will make our cities smart. The data collection and analysis should enable city officials/citizens to better (or attempt to better) run cities.

So what exactly will be changing? I can think of 4 buckets of change

  • 1. Leadership/Regulation: I won't get into politics but simply acknowledge that we'll need 'different' types of leaders.

  • Moore's law will always move faster than regulation and so our leaders will have to change their mindsets and put in place regulation/laws that recognize this fast changing landscape. This is necessary because data capture will challenge the very nature of privacy at a level that is scarier than Edward Snowden saw when he was at the NSA. Do people want that much data about them to be collected? Will the government or the individual own the data about that individual as s/he navigates a city that is wired up to capture everything s/he does? All questions that have to be answered as we speed forward ever faster into the future.

  • Cities will need City management software systems that are adaptable (artificially intelligent), nodal (so there is no one point of failure in the systems) and highly secure. Cities are not software development companies so they'll have to partner with the best companies to achieve this.
  • 2. New and upgraded Infrastructure: the walls and roads around us will become data collection nodes.
  • Commercial and residential building construction will have to factor in data collection and communication technology requirements while still in architectural design stage. For old buildings we already have beacons and sensors that enable us retrofit buildings for data collection.

  • Building materials will get smart. No longer will cement and concrete be 'all' you need to put up a wall or a road. We'll have smart concrete, self healing coatings and shape shifting metals that can farm & store energy from building vibrations while capturing & transmitting status to a building management system which also communicates with the city management system (mentioned above). We'll have smart lights that dim when the sun is shining and brighten gradually as it day darkens into night. Even the shades will do something similar.
  • 3. Transportation infrastructure upgrades at a scale we are not prepared for will be required (even though $416Bn was spent in the last few years). Semi-Autonomous or self driving cars, currently testing in Austin after success in Mountain view, will be standard. Buildings and traffic signals will communicate with these vehicles as the vehicles communicate with themselves. Side note: Self driving cars have been the stuff of science fiction fantasy since the 1880's!
  • Personnel and training: Along with the changes in regulation and infrastructure there will be a need to train our current workforce to deal with these upgrades to their capability. Some examples. Policemen will be able to get visual and text based information on events in seconds to within a square inch of where it happens and they need to be able to respond to that at the speed of receiving that information. Sticking with safety: firemen will be able to tell, before they leave the fire station, what device in a home caused the fire seconds after the fire starts. That's powerful but will require that firemen be trained on quickly drawing insights from data or be augmented by cognitive systems. For more basic needs, your plumber will be able to know what pipe or fitting needs to be changed out before he comes to your home so he'll come ready to serve.

  • 4. The Utility: We can't have smart cities without smart grids.
  • Cities will increase renewable energy use and upgrade energy usage data capture technology in buildings. Long way to go here but I've read of sensors (the size of a coin!) capturing energy usage data. The data is then transmitted to your computer/mobile device which will also pull information from the city energy management system to ensure the smart grid is balanced. Sidenote: Yes, this'll mean that your smart meter (if you have one) will soon be obsolete. Apart from being faster than regulation, Moore's law also moves faster than any 10 year smart meter rollout plan by your utility!

  • Our homes will be a honeypot of data that the utility will need to better run it's business. That battle for our homes and the data is already on the way. Nest is already on the way here... watch for Nest (and their competitors who will spring up to serve the average consumer who cannot afford a Nest product) to play a bigger role as your Future Utility.
  • Ok maybe 5. You and I will also have to change how we view and interact with our cities...it won't all be smart concrete and sensors. We'll have things like the Lowline...
  • Fundamentally, regardless of all the technological advancement that we are seeing/about to see, what we'll want from our cities won't change; to provide us the chance to fulfill our highest aspirations and live secure, happy and healthy lives with our loved ones. That won't change...

    What else do you think will change?