Smart Cities: The not so distant future
With the advent of digital technology, Smart Cities have become a reality. According to a 2017 article published by Futurism, “a smart city is where every device, every entity, and every object can connect for whatever the city needs. Wireless connectivity is the glue that holds everything together and the bottom line is to improve the quality of life in cities and quality of the planet”.
While wireless is a significant factor in the development of smart cities, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data Analysis are the absolute building blocks for this concept. The goal for a smart city is manage urban resources in a way that improves the environment and people’s lives, through sustainable and scalable solutions, and allows the city to compete on a global scale. To achieve this, large amounts of data must be identified and analysed to determine the best course of action – hence IoT and Big Data. The integration of such technologies will essentially enable planners to do more with current resources.
There are phenomenal possibilities for local city boards to start experimenting with. Some are way out into the distant future, but many have already started to prove their value, for example:
- City-wide wireless internet access: enabling a city to become one large access point. This is a critical foundation to allow IoT devices to transmit their data to core analysis systems. The public could have access to services on the internet that will help them make efficient decisions in the city (such as access to maps and navigation, vendor information, transport schedules, city event planning).
- Smart energy and water management systems: By placing smart sensors and big data analysis systems into these core city resources, cities can effectively manage and control quality, usage, and maintenance to ensure continued service provision and better quality to citizens.
- Smart contracts: This government efficiency tool will enable national and local authorities to create a paperless, digital, and secure layer for all city transactions. These include identity documents, passports, Visas, bill payments, renewals. and much more. The technology that underpins this will be Blockchain.
There are many more solutions such as smart centralised transporting, digital healthcare, futuristic banking, tech-controlled air quality, smart retailing, eGovernment and tech-driven security, which could all already be implemented on a large scale.
The global race for the best smart city is being led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). By simply conducting desktop research you will find that Dubai is making large strides toward creating the “smartest” city, compared to its counterparts. Dubai has a dedicated government office called Smart Dubai, and they have been executing on a well-defined strategy and roadmap of digital initiatives to embrace technological innovation. According to Smart Dubai, this strategy will continue to make Dubai more efficient, safe, impactful, and help it to become the “happiest” place on earth. The city has already pioneered government-wide use of Blockchain technology to securely digitise all citizen transactions with the government, which currently accounts for over 100 million copies of physical documents. The full implementation of this technology will contribute to savings of 114 metric tons of CO2 emissions and redistribute 25 million hours of productivity saved from document processing.
Closer to home, African cities are dealing with booming populations contributing to pollution, traffic, and inadequate housing and public spaces. Because of this, African cities are generally considered to be behind on the digitalisation curve, compared to global counterparts with matured services, technology, and infrastructure. This is, however, changing due to urbanisation and the application of smart solutions as these cities continue to grow. According to Deloitte, Africa is well positioned to lead smart city innovations as a result of:
- the rise of the middle class
- limited legacy drawbacks
- heavy urbanisation demand
- an entrepreneurial mindset
- the growth of mobile connectivity
Outside Insight reports that Cape Town is one of the few African cities leading the way in innovation –others include Nairobi and Lagos. Cape Town has already launched a four-pillar strategy and roadmap, towards becoming a truly Smart City in the coming years. The city has already implemented the following:
- Use of an open data portal which enables registers from citizens to be made public.
- The municipality to be more “connected” to critical city systems (water, electricity and waste management), in collaboration with Sqwidnet.
- Real time data analytics, in collaboration with IBM, to improve dispatch time for disaster management, especially in fire emergencies.
- Free public WiFi enabled on city buses and other city-controlled transport.
The world’s cities offer a tremendous canvas for cutting-edge technologies to flourish on a large scale. It’s all coming to us at an exponential rate and it’s all aimed at making our experience of life in a big city just a little better than yesterday.