When you hear the term “smart city projects,” Barcelona, Spain, typically springs to mind for those in the know—the Catalan capital, home to Mobile World Congress (News - Alert), has prided itself on installing smart traffic lights, city-wide Wi-Fi, telemanagement and so on well before it was a thing—and it even did a series of promotions in the U.S. to build its reputation. But a crop of new city projects shows that intelligent efficiency projects are spreading like wildfire—even in some unlikely places.
Cities can optimize infrastructure, energy and resource management, transportation, and public services like waste collection, using automation and in-the-field sensors to streamline a variety of processes. Projects carry a pretty hefty ROI considering the billions that are spent on city management every year, and as a result, the global smart city industry is predicted to explode. MarketsandMarkets said that spending will grow at a 22.5 percent CAGR, from $411.31 billion in 2014 to nearly three times that by 2019, to reach a staggering $1.135 trillion, or, roughly the GDP of many of the world’s smaller nations.
“These solutions are implemented to create a better connectivity which provides better access to the data on real-time basis for efficient management,” the firm said. “This has driven the governments to implement innovative solutions to the challenges of urbanization. Such innovative solutions would generate feedback from the end users, creating a better relation between the citizen and service provider. It will be a mixture of all infrastructures, social capital including local skills and community institutions and digital technologies to fuel sustainable economic development and provide an attractive environment for all. This demand also includes the rising requirements for sustainability and energy conservation.”
For instance, consider Los Angeles. L.A.'s Bureau of Street Lighting is implementing remote control for its 7,500 miles of streetlights using the Philips (News - Alert) CityTouch lighting management software. The city has a plan to attach GPS-enabled mobile chips to existing streetlights so that a city worker can remotely control what happens with them, such as turning individual lights on or off or visibly dimming or brightening them.
There are a number of perks to giving the system the Internet of Things (IoT) treatment—cost-savings, for one, in terms of monitoring energy usage and reducing it where it’s not needed. And, the system will alert the city when an individual light goes out.
"We'll be able to find out if a light goes out right away, as opposed to waiting for someone to call," Ed Ebrahimian, director of the city's Bureau of Street Lighting, told CNN. "It's really about customer service."
There’s also the ability to coordinate with L.A.’s 911 system, so that lights automatically turn on in an emergency.
"It opens the door to all sorts of smart city applications," said Ebrahimian.
Las Vegas is tackling lighting too, with a twist: A cloud-powered street lighting system makes use of LED lights with speakers, microphones and discrete displays. That means that the city can pump music across the Strip — which, if you’ve been to Vegas, you may have mixed feelings about — and can also push safety alert messages and ads, and can record audio and video for surveillance purposes. Also, each street light has a two-way 911 call box. Sin City has dubbed the project “Intellistreets.”
Not all projects are so … fabulous, but they’re still important. In Milton Keynes, Pa., the city council has funded a connected waste management system. It involves smart trashcans with sensors that alert a central dashboard when they’re full. So every day, garbage trucks are given optimized routes that save fuel and labor costs, while identifying as many of the bins that need to be emptied in the most efficient route possible. It’s also trialing a system that can automatically detect recycling materials.
Meanwhile, in Europe, three vacation destinations are getting their smart city on. Santander, Spain, has deployed some 25,000 sensors, on every building and street lamp. The goal is to measure light, noise levels, carbon emission, humidity, pressure and temperature – which a big data analytics engine crunches on the back end to provide actionable intelligence that can be used for irrigation plans, traffic control, environmental controls and so on. The city also uses sensors to support smart parking apps and even real-time bus route information, accessible via consumer mobile apps.
In Nice, France, a telepresence project aims to eliminate waiting times at government offices — which even on the Cote d’Azur can be unpleasant. Citizens can remotely pay fines, file applications or talk to the local council by using one of the many remote video kiosks. A touchscreen for filling out forms, a camera and scanner to scan in documents and ID, and a printer round out the service desk.
And finally, on the island of Mallorca—which becomes the “U.K. South” in summer—a Wi-Fi project aims to offer the teeming holiday-makers reliable connectivity for the first time. Playa de Palma in Mallorca offers a solid blanket of Wi-Fi across its five kilometers of Mediterranean sand.
Mauricio Socias, CEO of MallorcaWiFi, said that the project offers local businesses a better way to reach tourists. "The latest features like location analytics and integration with Facebook (News - Alert) are simply killer," Socias told TechRadar.
It’s a brave new world indeed. Though, it should be noted that there are caveats to city projects, which indicate that some logistics still need to be worked out as deployments progress. Ken Westin, senior security analyst with Tripwire (News - Alert), for instance, said that L.A.’s lighting plan opens the door to all sorts of security concerns.
“Although they plan to use encryption and secure networks, there are additional considerations that should be taken into account, such as how the firmware in these lights will be updated,” Westin said. “Although the system may be ‘secure’ now, as the lights and network become more distributed they become a target for hackers who will identify vulnerabilities in the system and the lights themselves.”
Clearly though, smart city projects make a lot of sense. They can drive down costs, allow for more environmentally friendly processes, attract more tourists and make cities more livable.
In short, smart cities offer “sustainable infrastructure for a smarter life,” the MarketsandMarkets report said. “The smart cities market provides advanced solutions for smart homes, innovative industry, and smart transportation, and smart resource management, smart utility and smart security.”
Edited by Rory J. Thompson