Are we embracing the true potential of smart cities?
Written by: Paul Moorby | Published:

There is a fine balance between reducing congestion in inner cities and towns and delivering effective transportation systems to support local businesses and city dwellers.

Smart cities are gaining traction, with worldwide spending on connected city initiatives predicted to reach $124 billion this year; an 18.9 percent increase from 2019. The smart city vision involves driverless cars, Artificial Intelligence (AI), smart street lighting and smart parking.

It promises to solve a fundamental challenge for towns and cities – how to reduce costs and generate economic growth and resilience, while increasing sustainability and improving public services and quality of life.

Many cities around the world collect extensive amounts of on-street data, using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors placed throughout the urban realm to monitor traffic, waste, noise and air pollution. This data can then be used to generate insights which improve the lives of residents. The problem, however, lies in the application of this data.

Driving efficiency

The focus of a smart city should be about people; working out how people live, work and play and identifying the pain points. Successfully analysing data is critical to driving insight that delivers improved outcomes for cities and residents.

Data is a key enabler for innovation and an essential part of 21st century infrastructure. Increased sharing of information in real-time can ensure an open mobility marketplace, enabling a better user experience and improving the safety and efficiency of the transport network. For example, local governments can use sensors and Big Data to identify common congestion points or accident-prone roads and refine traffic management policies accordingly.

The recipe for truly smart cities is a combination of technology, data and human action. Technological advancements can improve the ability of IoT sensors to collect significant amounts of data and have a better understanding of the surrounding environment, but it is vital for human beings to apply this data and find solutions.

No matter how much data is generated from IoT technologies, addressing urban challenges depends on effective management, long-term investment and human activity. For example, if smart data identifies a pothole in the road, it still requires people to visit the site and fix the pothole.

Urban shift

By 2030, the United Nations estimates that 60 percent of the world’s population will live in a city. With nearly nine in 10 car users in England agreeing they require a car for their current lifestyle, effective traffic management will become even more critical to delivering smart cities.

Local authorities and city planners face a difficult challenge: managing the growing inner-city populations and offering efficient transports systems while reducing air and noise pollution. Future public wellbeing relies on balancing the demands for growth, development, mobility and wellbeing with delivering a sustainable future for the planet.

Consider traffic as an example: busy roads could be an indicator of an active and vibrant urban environment, but they could ultimately have a negative impact on a town or city’s economic growth in the long term. Businesses can be hindered by traffic congestion on main roadways, with deliveries being delayed and commuters feeling stressed.

Transport data firm Inrix calculated the average UK driver loses £1,317 each from congestion and wastes an average total of four days every year looking for a parking space at their final destination. If this can be reduced there is a clear and obvious immediate win: cities become less polluted; drivers less frustrated and the volume of fuel and emissions wasted reduces significantly.

Connecting the dots

In the UK, more than 30 per cent of inner-city traffic is caused by drivers searching for a parking spot – increasing vehicle emissions, wasting time and frustrating drivers. Connected vehicle technology has the capability to improve the parking problem and will play key role in the evolution of smart cities across the world.

Connected cars are one of the fastest growing technologies in the IoT sphere, sending and receiving real time information. They may be connected to other cars, to the driver’s information systems, to road safety systems or other control systems. Connected vehicles have the capability to direct drivers towards available car park spaces, identify the cheapest price tariffs and inform dynamic pricing.

Dynamic pricing means the cost of parking changes depending on the availability of space. Today, car parks that are nearer the centre of a town or city tend to charge more than those on the outskirts or ‘park and ride’ schemes. Dynamic parking can implement this in real time, assessing the number of free spaces available and the level of air pollution and setting parking costs to reflect this.

Local authorities will be able to combine large datasets - such as analysis of traffic flows - with real-time on-street parking demand. This can then enable the setting of demand-led parking tariffs and inform decisions around traffic management policies, the building of new parking facilities and the development of new resident parking schemes.

Is my data safe?

With any IoT device, there is always the risk of data from connected cars being intercepted. In 2020, 10.46 million more connected cars will be added to roadways worldwide. With more of these vehicles on the road, the potential risks of cyber-attacks increase. In 2015, Chrysler had to recall 1.4 million vehicles after two security researchers had been able to remotely control a Jeep over the internet, taking over the vehicle’s dashboard, steering, brakes, and transmission.

There is work to be done to overcome the challenges around security and data sharing in smart cities, but the opportunities are immense. There needs to be an integrated approach to urban planning which puts people at the centre. Algorithms should be free from bias and there needs to be an open data platform which is not owned by the global corporations, but can be utilised to make cities more efficient.

Sustainable future

Smart cities and IoT technology are critical enablers for sustainable development goals. Using sensors, local governments and urban planners can identify weaknesses in the infrastructure that are negatively impacting the environment. For example, a new tarmac mix might reduce aggregate use, but it might also cause a marked increase in Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) use – increasing exhaust emissions.

IoT technology can collect data from a connected vehicle’s journey, which can then be used to fine tune the engine at its next service, reducing fuel use and pollution. The environment changes minute by minute, and there is no reason that car configuration cannot adapt in real time too. Connected cars could – if used correctly, with small tweaks in real time - reduce congestion and pollution.

Smart cities of the future

From monitoring car parks and streets to ease congestion, to fine tuning cars to reduce emissions, smart cities and connected technologies can be used for a better, more efficient way of life.

There is no single path to city transformation, but smart technology has the potential to dramatically improve how towns and cities operate. By collecting, sharing and analysing big data, cities can ensure they are fit for the future.

As connected infrastructure continues to improve and towns and cities continue to expand, it will become even more essential for both to become interconnected. Big data should be used to better inform future planning decisions around urban infrastructure.

We need to move beyond using “smart city” as a buzzword and start implementing strategic plans to embrace the capabilities of IoT technologies. Technology cannot be the focal point of smart cities but used as an enabler to make better use of resources and improve the quality of life for residents and visitors.

Chipside works with around half of the UK local authorities to provide digital parking, permitting services and smart city initiatives. Chipside’s CEO, Paul Moorby OBE, works closely with local councils to deliver connected and smarter cities.


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