What, might you ask, is “connected?” Specifics vary wildly depending on application, but universally speaking, it’s an interdependence that enables a multitude of stakeholders to benefit.
It also defines what our world has become, and is becoming.
For the billions of Earth’s denizens that wake up each day and reach for a palm-sized supercomputer, we have a fairly distinct understanding of what it’s like to be connected. Torrents of data at our fingertips, all made sensible by being funneled into various apps, visualized in logical ways.
But one has to wonder what’ll happen to monolithic verticals once that kind of structured chaos comes to something far larger: the urban metropolis.
The Connected City
For decades now, municipalities have longed for ways to make the lives of millions easier by enabling one part of the city to speak to another. TransLoc, for example, enabled NC State University’s Wolfline commuter bus system to output real-time location data, giving prospective riders something far more exact than an arrival estimate.
Just this month, the city of Las Vegas flipped the switch on a connected intersection platform, enabling select Audi automobiles to see a countdown on their dash indicating how long they’ll have to wait for the next light to turn green.
These installations, viewed in a vacuum, aren’t significant enough to dramatically impact city life. But planners and officials have longer-term plans in mind. As more people flock to urban areas in search of stable, well-paying work, cities are increasingly looking to technology to help manage the load.
In Las Vegas, for example, the city estimates that just a single mile of additional roadway will end up costing over $5 million; additionally, more roads are just a temporary fix to projected growing pains. Conversely, implementing a smart intersection system that dynamically adjusts light timings to accommodate real-time traffic flow is a far, far cheaper ambition – around 10x, in fact. That saves taxpayer dollars, and it draws a line in the sand. One that shows its willingness to combat overcrowding with intelligence, not just brute force paving tactics.
It’s clear that the connected city will impact the technology that we demand in our next vehicle. Much like the advent of the iPod created an assumption that all modern vehicles would have a USB port, the proliferation of roadways and intersections that can transit data will further evolve our infotainment expectations.
But, what else will be impacted?
For starters, the entire logistical infrastructure of a country can be reenvisioned. Entities such as UPS, FedEx, and USPS can save millions of gallons of fuel by being able to dynamically route deliveries around the most congested parts of a city.
The norms of workplace attendance will continue to be challenged. As average broadband speeds rise, so too has telecommuting. As cities become more connected, managers looking to get the best from their employees may implement flexible onsite programs that enable workers to show up in waves rather than a single 8:00 a.m.tsunami.
Paving will get smarter. As cities crowdsource data around the clock, they’ll understand which intersections are overused, which are underutilized, and where added infrastructure would make the most sense. In turn, municipalities will be better equipped to alter traffic flows in order to change patterns of drivers in a bid to alleviate congestion. Indeed, cities could create one-way thoroughfares for rush hour that eventually morph into two-way streets.
The cloud will get heavier. As all of the world’s cities begin to collect, analyze, and distribute information from a near-limitless supply of sensors, IT outfits that support cloud systems will be forced to stiffen up. It’s one thing for a cloud-based video game server to blink for 90 seconds in the middle of the night; it’s another for an entire connected city to lose track of itself for even a millisecond.
Predictions will get eerier. As cities learn when and where its denizens go, our navigational apps will be better equipped to recommend when we leave and what routes we should take. Moreover, cities can use that data to more effectively lay out public transit routes, and dynamically adjust them as up-and-coming neighborhoods take hold.
Future cities will be better. In booming nations such as China, rural outposts are quickly transforming into mid-sized cities. Using connected city data from urban areas that are already established, planners will be able to make smarter projections on roadway layouts, intersection timings, and even zoning. Essentially, the here-and-now cities will be the test subjects for tomorrow’s urban centers.
The March to Ultimate Efficiency
Truly connected cities — areas where phones and intersections and vehicles and buildings all speak to one another in the same digital language – will reshape how we spend each minute inside of them. Extrapolated across millions of people, it’s not difficult to foresee billions in productivity gains.
The end result, of course, is perfect efficiency. By squeezing out unplanned waits, snags getting from one meeting to another, and hours of fossil fuels being burned unnecessarily, we’re marching towards a world that better utilizes the resources it has. Considering the human element, it’s also a world filled with fewer headaches, less unpredictability, and more time spent in control of our own surroundings.