We’ve all heard the term “smart cities.” But it’s more than just another modern buzzword – it’s one of the most exciting trends for IoT developers right now.
Across the globe, more and more cities are becoming “smart” by using advanced technology to enhance their services and engage with their citizens more effectively. And the IoT is leading the revolution, helping huge metropolises and small towns alike transform into truly connected smart cities. Gartner recently projected that 1.1 billion connected things will be used by smart cities this year, with the number jumping to 9.7 billion by 2020. City organizations from police departments to utility companies are developing data-driven smart systems that citizens interact with from their smartphones and even wearable devices.
All of this spells big potential for IoT developers, with sensors and other software-based devices being critical to smart city infrastructures. In this blog, part 1 of a series on connected cities, we’ll cover the topic as a whole and talk about some of the more ground breaking innovations going on today.
Getting Connected, from Dublin to Songdo
The trend of smart/connected cities might still be in its infancy, but already some ambitious cities are getting ahead of the curve with IoT pilot projects. One of those cutting-edge cities is Dublin, Ireland, where city officials are currently working with chip maker Intel on a pilot to turn the Irish capital into the world’s first official IoT city. To reach that goal, Dublin is placing 200 Intel Quark-based sensing gateways all across the city to gather and monitor environmental data such as noise and air quality. In Amsterdam, smart city initiatives support IoT projects including everything from smart parking to the integration of home energy storage with a smart grid. And in Barcelona, sensors are being used to test noise and air contamination, traffic congestion, and waste management.
The innovation isn’t just happening in Europe, though. Inside taxis on the streets of Singapore, sensors, cameras, and GPS devices monitor traffic and predict congestion, so cabbies know the fastest routes across town. Similar traffic sensors are installed in Songdo, South Korea, sometimes dubbed “the world’s first smart city.” These regions have been the leaders in smart city growth, but other regions are ramping up IoT initiatives, too. For example, additional smart city projects are likely to take place in middle-income countries such as Brazil, India, and China in coming years.
An Explosion of Opportunity
As more and more IoT projects are implemented in smart cities worldwide, it’s clear that there will be massive opportunities for developers, who will play a key role in building the connected cities of the future.
So what will these connected cities look like? The ideal city of the future will combine wireless connectivity with the traditional concepts of community and shared space. Cities will need IoT solutions to manage everything from sanitation and water to transportation, communications, and infrastructure. And while energy, public safety, and sustainability are currently the most popular verticals, the IoT will also create many new opportunities for health, education, and system integration spanning all sectors. For IoT developers who want to help build the connected city of the future, the biggest growth will come in the following areas:
- Smart Homes. In smart cities, everyone and everything gets connected, and that includes the home. There are already many IoT devices being produced for smart homes, including security systems, thermostats, and entertainment. The demand for these kinds of products is exploding; arecent study by Juniper Research projects the smart home market to reach $71 billion by 2018, up from $33 billion in 2013.
- Smart Grids. Increasingly, cities are setting up smart grids to optimize the distribution of electricity to the areas that need it most, based on usage, time, and population. Utilities will likely use smart grids to improve forecasting and reduce power costs by optimizing energy consumption in response to expected energy costs.
- Citizen Sensor Networks. In many smart cities, citizen sensors – people who observe and report on events as they happen – are helping improve cities by providing everything from real-time parking info to road quality data. For example, the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics uses the Street Bump app, which relies on smartphone and GPS data to determine pothole locations on the city’s roads. Also, citizens are becoming more engaged with their cities because of data transparency efforts, through which they can better understand how their governments are using funds.
- Citizen Sourcing. Through crowdsourcing techniques, smart cities are using ideas and suggestions from their citizens to enhance city services. Citizen reporting platforms, for instance, are used for crime or emergency response, and governments can monitor social media for situational awareness. On the lighter side of things, there are participatory online platforms like theBlock by Block urban planning game, which gives young people a chance to try their hand at building the cities of the future via a Minecraft-like game.
- Industrial IoT. The industrial IoT is one of the biggest areas of opportunity, with many companies starting to use sensors and advanced analytics in their factories, warehouses, and other parts of their industry.
Maneuvering Around the Roadblocks
Building the connected city of the future won’t be without its challenges for developers. For one thing, every city has its own unique culture, and residents might not want to be too connected. In fact, they might view sensors as an invasion of their privacy, Big Brother-style. You have to be aware of those sensitivities and carefully consider the culture when building IoT solutions for any given city.
And as with any IoT solution, connectivity, security, and data transport should always be at the top of your list of priorities. To build a complete connected city, you must get these elements right, so you’ll have to maintain a laser focus on preventing security vulnerabilities by managing point-to-point encryption. You’ll also want to simplify data transport as much as possible.
We’ll dive a lot deeper into these roadblocks, and discuss other areas of opportunity and concern, in the upcoming blogs in our Connected Cities series. We’ll especially be tackling the industrial IoT, which has the potential to not only transform companies, but also launch the next wave of economic growth.