The pace of urbanization globally is unprecedented - by 2050 nearly 66% of the world's population is expected to be urban. The ability to effectively manage this rapid urbanization is critical. Cities must find new ways to increase the efficiency of existing and new infrastructure and services to a level never previously achieved. Technology holds the key to maintaining and improving the economic and environmental health of a city by enabling it to evolve 'smartly'. Such smart city technology can involve finding ways to relieve pollution or congestion using sensors and data analysis or it can be about finding ways to make cities greener with bike sharing schemes or more parks. There is no one blueprint for making a smart city - smart means different things to different cities.
In Spain the country's major telecom supplier Telefonica has helped the city of Santander to streamline functions such as sanitation and city maintenance. Not only are tasks like garbage collection automated; citizens help speed the process with real-time feedback. In Seattle the city implemented a software solution that connects disparate building management systems and detects leaks and wasted energy. As a result the city's Office of Economic Development anticipates energy and maintenance savings of 10% to 25%.
Neither of these cities would have been able to become smarter without using big data. The
adoption of ultra-low power sensors, wireless networks, and web and mobile-based applications creates huge amounts of data. Such data is of little use if you can't analyse, store and secure the huge amounts of information collected. The only effective way to do this at massive scale is by developing tools, infrastructure platforms and integrated solutions using cloud computing.
Dubai is building its own private cloud as it aims to transform itself into the smartest city in the world with the entire city's services and facilities available on smartphones. All the city's traffic lights are now connected wirelessly to a central command centre. By using cameras and sensors on busy roads, the timings of the traffic lights can be altered to adjust traffic flows in real time easing congestion and directing people away from problem areas. By 2030 Dubai plans to have solar panels on every rooftop enabling a large proportion of the city's electricity to come from renewable energy whilst also powering a network of electric car charging stations. By monitoring electricity use in real time through "smart meters", the city will be able to better anticipate surges, and divert or store power in predicted low periods.
The cloud enables Dubai to work with real-time input from meters, sensors and smartphones through active data replication technology. Active data replication makes it easy to move large volumes of data to the cloud whilst that data is continually in use. This also means there is no chance of downtime - something which could have serious consequences if an entire city is on "the grid". The last thing a city wants is its traffic lights to fail - something which is far more likely to happen with a physical disaster recovery facility.
With the world's urban population expected to surpass six billion by 2045, smart technology is needed not only to reduce the congestion and pollution resulting from potential overpopulation but also to create more efficient and sustainable metropolises. It is clear smart city technology is here to stay - we just have to ensure cities are smart in the way they use it.