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How IoT Will Enable the Smart Cities of the Future

Woman tracking GPS in a smart city.

IoT technology can improve the quality of life of citizens, save public money, and help governments do more with fewer resources.

July 2, 2019 - Applications for the Internet of Things are legion.

We’re surrounded by connected homes with smart lights, security, and climate controls; manufacturing floors are now packed with sensors and edge computing to streamline production processes; and sales teams now glean sophisticated customer data from beacons embedded on the retail floor.

But one of the biggest uses for IoT, if in sheer scale if not in importance, is in the future of the smart city.

A natural fit for the IoT

Cities are a natural place for the IoT to find a home.

After all, cities are massive machines that run on social, political, engineering and logistical fuel.

Cities are in a constant feedback loop, like the production process at a mind-numbingly complicated factory, performing continual self-improvement.

Cities strive to improve their own efficiency, the quality of life of citizens, and save money and resources whenever possible – or to do more with the allotted resources.

Not surprisingly, that’s where the IoT comes in.

Smart cities are engineered with the tools they need to monitor and improve their own services, like health, public safety, energy distribution and consumption, traffic management, and public works like water management.

Using date for urban planning

Urban planning – traditionally a laborious, arcane discipline that must make many assumptions based on factors like aggregate trend data and census information – can benefit greatly from IoT.

Data from multiple sources can inform city planners about actual growth data throughout the city, and apply it to solve problems related to congestion and delivering services to residents.

Smart cities will likewise need to make significant investments in smart energy.

An IoT that’s built into the city’s power grid can monitor energy production, distribution, energy leaks and waste, and monitoring key devices.

Solving for traffic problems

And then there’s traffic management – and overall citizen mobility in general.

This is one of the most vexing problems facing many metropolitan areas today, and it’s only getting worse.

But there’s hope in sight; traffic management can be enhanced through a number of tech initiatives.

Comprehensive traffic control can optimize traffic flow through data that’s collected from cars – self-driving and otherwise – along with road cameras and other sensors.

Self-driving cars, augmented by the comprehensive network of sensors throughout the city, can lead to autonomous fleets of vehicles that operate along optimal routes, reducing traffic congestion, pollution, and noise.

In this scenario, cars can be kept off the street until they’re needed and then go directly between destinations in the most efficient way.

And smart cities can finally see public transportation thrive.

No longer will riders need to wait at a bus stop and guess when the Blue Line will arrive; mass transit vehicles can report their precise locations to mobile apps, which, when combined with historical performance data, means minute-accurate scheduling transparency for all riders.

Other benefits

There are so many potential ways that technology can contribute to improving urban environments that there isn’t yet a lot of consensus on what exactly defines a smart city.

Will a smart city need a specific cocktail of sensors, data, and analytics to qualify?

It’s still early days, and few people agree on these kinds of rules.

Even so, a growing list of cities are implementing some version of an IoT to benefit from some smart city attributes.

Locations as diverse as Singapore, Dubai, Barcelona, and New York have all taken some tentative steps in this direction.

And one city – Managua, in Nicaragua – has recently started tracking the nearby Masaya volcano, which could threaten residents with an eruption.

There’s no doubt that the IoT will play a huge role in securing the safety and security of city residents in the smart cities of the future.

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