Smart Solutions for Smart Cities: Are We There Yet?
With the world around us evolving rapidly, we strive to live smarter. People already expect smart healthcare, smart environment, smart government, smart transportation, and the advent of Internet of Things (IoT) actually made it possible to make our cities smart. But what truly is a smart city? Is it a widespread reality or a futuristic fiction? What are some good examples of smart solutions for smart cities? And what’s stopping cities around the world from becoming smart? Read on to find out.
What is Smart City
Imagine your boldest futuristic smart city fantasy. Is it swarmed with flying cars and robots walking dogs? The reality is much more down-to-earth but nonetheless exciting. A smart city is a city that learned to integrate IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, information and communication technologies and engineering to make the life of its citizens more practical, manageable, easier and, well, smarter. It’s basically a city with a network of interconnected sensors that collect data and use the results for the benefit of its residents. This includes automating municipal processes and services, automating entire infrastructures (transportation, parking, street lighting, waste management, etc.) and solving, controlling and even preventing issues based on the data collected.
The “smartness” of the city depends on the quantity and quality of sensors and the analysts and technologies that process the massive volumes of live data provided by the sensors. But most importantly, it relies on the collaboration of the city’s residents, authorities and infrastructure management.
Smart City Solutions
Let’s look at some of the most useful and successful examples of smart city solutions in environment, parking and waste management.
Pollution has long been a major issue in cities all over the world. TZOA, a wearable air quality monitor, helps people track and avoid air pollution as much as possible. This small environmental tracker shows air quality, UV exposure, atmospheric pressure, humidity, temperature and more via a mobile application. Through its tiny sensors, TZOA measures air quality and detects harmful particles. The information about air pollution is sent to the app on your smartphone. It’s interesting that TZOA distinguishes between allergens and more harmful particles. The smartphone app also shows the places where users have reported allergens or other health issues connected with air quality and allows you to contribute to the real-time air quality map to reduce the exposure of others.
Some smart city apps are targeted not at individual citizens, but at entire cities or regions. Everimpact, for example, is a climate monitoring app for cities that helps to discover the origins of greenhouse gas emissions in your city. Their award-winning technology allows monitoring greenhouse gas emissions in real time thanks to the data gathered from satellites and sensors installed by Everimpact. The idea is to equip a city with their intelligent gas sensors and monitor CO2 emissions. They also offer a big data platform to store and aggregate the data gathered from sensors in your city.
When talking about the pioneers of smart parking solutions, Streetline is the first one that comes to mind. Having worked in the industry for 10 years, they have covered almost 28,000 instrumented spaces in North America and Europe. Streetline’s Hybrid Smart Parking Platform is a combination of hardware like sensors and cameras and software analysis to provide real-time data on the occupied and vacant parking spots. It only takes a single in-pavement sensor per block-face to get occupancy data for the whole block and one camera for up to 100 parking spaces. Combined with Streetline’s proprietary analytics and image recognition software, this allows individual businesses as well as entire cities to optimize parking management and handle parking demand wisely.
All you have to do to find the closest cheapest parking spot in your city is to launch ParkMe, a free mobile app for Android or iPhone that works worldwide. You can view what spots are available in real-time and see parking prices right away based on the kind of car you have and the duration of your stay. If you see a spot that you like in the app, you can pay for it in advance with your credit card and drive directly to it without worrying that someone will steal it. You can also set up a parking timer in the app to avoid overpaying or getting fined.
Enevo is here to make your city cleaner. Its advanced wireless sensors monitor the fill level of waste containers to streamline the effectiveness of waste management. The solution is equally useful for cities, businesses and brokers handling waste contracts. Enevo’s sensors use ultrasonic sonar technology to detect fill levels, measure temperature, tilt and acceleration to offer extensive data directly from containers. The solution lets you view scheduled collections, track average fullness of containers, see how much waste you’re generating and how much you’re recycling, predict when and where containers are filling up, see which containers need emptying and manage containers that don’t need to be collected – all that to help you make the right data-driven decisions. Enevo is said to save over 50% of your waste collection costs – that’s impressive.
Another great solution that challenges the traditional methods of waste management is Ecubelabs. Their smart waste management system is said to help cities reduce operational costs by up to 80%. Ecubelabs offers a comprehensive solution that consists of three components: the Clean CUBE, a solar-powered trash can that compresses and holds up to 8 times more garbage than standard cans; the Clean CAP, a smart ultrasonic fill-level sensor; and Clean City Networks (CCN), an integrated web-based and mobile app compatible system that manages real-time data from Clean CUBE and Clean CAP. Ecubelabs products allow its users to plan waste collection wisely to save time and money.
Smart City Challenges and Outlook
In 2017, Roland Berger carried out a smart city research and examined the smart strategies of 87 cities around the globe. Their idea was to come up with a Smart City Strategy Index and rate big as well as small cities worldwide against it. The results were surprising: the average score was just 37 out of 100, and only 19 of the 87 cities examined scored more than 50 out of 100. As you can see, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
The thing is, even the smartest of cities don’t offer a holistic ecosystem that lets you feel like you’re living in a city of the future. That is probably the biggest issue they face when turning smart. It’s a long way to go, with obstacles like tight budgets, privacy and cyber security concerns and lack of experienced IT talent in municipal departments.
But there is hope. The smart city industry has immense potential, despite the issues that may slow down its development. Once cities learn to develop a comprehensive approach to becoming smart, engage its citizens, set up municipal innovation labs and ensure data security, they are sure to thrive.