Smart cities can add value not just through money saved by efficient operations but also through the added benefits for citizens and local businesses by adding great design.

Let’s change the design — and build a city.

The key to building truly “smart” and efficient cities of the future is improving not just infrastructure — but the general makeup of its entire foundation. This includes concepts like energy and resource management, traffic and productivity, public services, active culture, and education.

Design doesn’t just mean IoT enabled sensors.

It’s so much more than just deploying a few IoT-enabled sensors at major intersections or switching to renewable energy sources. These few “extras” are definitely needed on a broad scale. It’s all of these things merged to create a well-oiled, highly efficient machine.

Energy generation and consumption, for example, once two separate concepts combine and directly influence one another. That’s not to say they weren’t connected before. The future shows these systems must interface intelligently.

Renewable energy.

Renewable energy sources, for example, might cut back on generation when consumption levels fall and then scale up during the seasons where usage is high again.

Is everything — smart?

Like you see with a modern smart home, smart cities will be able to sync up, communicate and transmit data between all the systems and processes.

What about water?

Public water systems might recognize there’s a drought and water restriction in effect. The cut back on the use of water through things like irrigation and water fountains causes reductions we don’t want to deal with.

Uptick in crime areas.

A data reporting system might notice an uptick in crime in a particular area and essentially reroute law enforcement patrols there.

But how does this influence the overall value of a city? Will “smart” technologies add billions to a city’s overhead, or will the costs simply even things out? And at what stage should the integration and deployment of such technologies start?

It All Begins With an Idea

Before any of this can come to pass — all the what-ifs and potential use cases of “smart” technologies — we must first start with the core or initial concept. What is a “smart city” really and what technologies or improvements make it so?

Each city is inherently different.

It might seem that bustling people, loads of businesses, and traffic all crammed into a central location is virtually the same everywhere, but that’s not the case.

For starters, making a city “smart” means incorporating everything about it into a single connected system or platform.

That includes industry, which is remarkably different for each area. Industry in San Francisco, is wholly different than industry in New York City. And the same thing can be said for the infrastructure of each location.

Facts highlight the need to consider, plan and incorporate “smart” technologies into the design of each city.

This is difficult to accomplish with the cities or sprawling areas that already exist. It’s not as if you can just snap your fingers and start from scratch. You’re working with a city that is already thriving, already operational and already filled to the brim with people, businesses, and traffic.

So how do you incorporate these technologies into a design stage when that phase happened years ago?

It’s simple. That initial idea? The core concept you must start with? It relates directly to the current makeup of an urban center. You must come up with a seamless, formulated strategy that works to unite and enhance the entire cities.

There is no room for silos here. Thinking of the city must become as a comprehensive whole. This helps prevent some of the issues that might otherwise come along with implementing modern technologies. The change have to be at the core of a city’s operations.

But how do you connect everything within a city? How do you connect modern industry to the residential dwellings and areas? How do you sync up traffic and infrastructure with public services?

Smart technologies.

Improved Efficiency and Performance Add Value

Economically, smart city tech can add precise incremental growth rates. The studies show growths of five percent and over $20 trillion in financial gains — over just the next decade. But the value added is so much more than just a monetary benefit.

Los Angeles loses an insane $19.2 billion per year to time wasted from traffic congestion on its roadways, while New York City loses $33.7 billion annually — or $2,982 per driver.

Those are just costs associated with inefficiencies in roadways and traffic. Imagine if we included the impact of energy consumption, general waste handling and removal, and the like?

Urban regions consume anywhere between 67 percent and 76 percent of global energy. Great, but they produce three-quarters of global carbon emissions as a result.

Studies show that with the proper planning, that energy use can be cut by as much as 50 percent.

Smart technologies can be used to unite and simplify these systems through automation. More importantly, they can deliver various enhancements regarding operation, outcomes, and future strategies.

Simple — the home thermostat.

Look at something as simple as a smart home thermostat, for instance. The idea is that homeowners install them in place of their existing air and heating system thermostats.

Over time, the device will measure their habits and usage and optimize its performance based on the data it collects. By simply programming a smart thermostat, homeowners can save an average of $180 a year.

Not only do they save money, smart thermostats cut down on frequent temperature and air changes. This small change is aimed at lowering energy usage. Furthermore, the device could shut off when there is no one home and then turn back on when the homeowner leaves work.

Do the big, grand-scale improvements work?

But something like this rolled out on a grand scale — across an entire city could make sweeping improvements. This is a general operation and consumption of resources — but, what does it cost in the first place? It adds considerable value, just in the enhancement of modern operations alone.

How Do We Make This Happen?

The strange thing about modern “smart” technologies is that they aren’t necessarily designed with conventional concepts in mind. You’re not developing or deploying technologies to improve “tech” or devices per se. Instead, there’s a human aspect to it all.

Do the planners think of the people?

When designing a smart city, focusing on the citizens and people that live within its boundaries is vital. Planners must think about, for instance, what can be done to improve their daily lives, commutes, and experiences.

Focus on business.

That is precisely how we make this happen, and how we make it work. By focusing on local businesses and the general populace. In turn, this would include a new leadership model as well to promote continued innovation on a government level.

This governance and operation model must include the voices,  and experiences of everyone. These opinions must be within the boundaries of a city — not just certain demographics.

This extends even to the technologies and platforms adopted, which must also remain open. These designs need to be modular to accommodate future solutions. Avoiding the situation we’re currently in has to be considered — where tech quickly becomes outdated.

What Technologies Are Involved?

When discussing a smarter, more efficient city the first metrics that come to mind are power consumption. Consider transportation and infrastructure, waste management and clean water as well as future development.

What technologies will be used to improve these industries — and do they exist?

Does the current form of upgrade have needed innovation necessary?

Smart transportation technologies and systems are a great place to start. It’s an area where, with proper implementation, cities can see a vast and quick return on investment. Identifying stretches of congestion and parking issues can help improve efficiency considerably.

Parking.

Smart parking systems could, for instance, let drivers know when and where there is an open spot in the area. This could save time, cuts down on fuel consumption and helps alleviate traffic in the area.

At Disney — who else?

At Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida, the company introduced innovative parking technologies within their garages. Each parking space in the garage has a simple indicator that is red for taken and green for free. At the end of each row, a display tells drivers how many spaces are open within each row.

But all of these technologies means new, useful data flowing in which can be leveraged by the appropriate parties. Even data collected by streetlights can help benefit a smart city.

How do we garner the needed insights?

Embedded within “are valuable insights and information about how citizens interact with cities.” Susanne Says Susanne Seitinger, Ph.D. from Philips Lighting professional systems says.

“For instance, traffic data captured by streetlights can uncover a prime location for a new restaurant in a revitalized neighborhood.

Predictive analytics helps cities filter and translate data into relevant and actionable information. We must make city life better, easier, and more productive.”

Sensors embedded within existing infrastructure can collect a vast trove of information.

Imagine a sensor installed within the pavement that measures how often vehicles are passing an intersection or segment of the road.

Even the smart technologies that will power better and more efficient manufacturing and development — seem to fit into the idea of “smart” city growth.

Factories and manufacturing plants are primary contributors to environmental waste and energy usage. By improving their operations and cutting down on their resource consumption, the number of benefits grows.

Everything Is Connected

But the biggest challenge, of course, is syncing up so many different industries, platforms, and regions within a city. Critically, what sort of platform will power the data processing and transfer between all these areas?

AI and machine learning.

Luckily, AI and machine learning are really coming into their own in the current landscape and will most certainly help power the smart cities of the future. Machine learning is already being used to inform and improve traffic in places like San Jose, California, and Dallas, Texas.

Also referred to as “neural networks,” these AI technologies use cognitive learning to become more efficient over time.

They do so through the constant influx of data and information they receive, which they then process and put to use directly by the system in question.

One deep learning machine, for instance, taught itself to play chess in just 72 hours by analyzing existing game patterns and experiences. It can now play at international master levels, competing with some of the greatest players in existence.

This shows the true power of the technology and how it can learn, over time, patterns and trends within a city. At this point we can then identify areas for potential improvement. These technologies can also be used to power automated systems — like the smart parking system Disney incorporated.

How Long Until Smart Cities Arrive?

 To be blunt, modern “smart” cities are already here or on the way. Many of these technologies are already being experimented with and deployed and will no doubt be improved over time. They are not so advanced that somewhere like New York. Some information can be used to achieve automation on a grand scale.

The driverless vehicles.

Technologies like driverless vehicles for public transportation helps green and renewable energy system development. The smarter more informed traffic technologies are all being rolled out. Great news for us — the citizens of these cities.

It’s up to us — city inhabitants and the businesses we run.

We must push policymakers and city officials to adopt these technologies sooner rather than later. With any luck, we’ll all be living in these smarter, more efficient cities. We must make the future — instead of merely looking and hoping for it.

Megan Ray Nichols

Technical Writer & Blogger

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance technical writer and blogger. She enjoys discussing the latest news in science and technology on her blog, Schooled By Science. When she isn't writing, Megan enjoys watching movies and hiking with friends.