Bright Lights, Smart City

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According to the Smart Cities Council, a city becomes smart when it uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance its livability, workability and sustainability. Smart cities have been described as an urban Internet of Things (IoT), and of the billions of objects predicted to be connected to the Internet by 2050, many will be the street furniture we take for granted – from traffic lights to rubbish bins.

But in the discussions about the IoT, the data it produces, the analysis it enables, the secure connectivity and the need for interoperability, it can be easy to lose sight of what the smart city means for those that will experience it every day: the city’s residents and its businesses.

Getting real about smart

Throughout EMEA, Intel IoT Ignition Labs are working on just that idea: working out which solutions will have a real and positive impact on the lives of city-dwellers, and how they will do it. The Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities is also conducting research and using London as a test bed.

London is also home to the Intel-sponsored Cognicity Challenge, which provides insight into very real ways in which a smart city can improve life for its inhabitants. Its goal is to accelerate deployment of smart city technologies by testing out the most encouraging projects in business and residential districts of Canary Wharf.

One of the winners in the Integrated Resource Management category of the Cognicity Challenge is SeAB Energy, a company with the technology to turn bio waste into biogas and ultimately free electricity and heat. Because the technology (the MuckBuster and the Flexibuster) is small enough to be installed on local sites, waste disposal – and traffic - costs can be reduced. The by-product can be sold on as fertilizer: maximizing use of resources, and creating an extra revenue stream from the waste material.

Urbanization and the circular economy

What’s interesting about the SeAB project is that it reflects a number of key points about the development of the smart city.

First of all, the need to manage waste and resources effectively is a key driver. As urban populations get bigger, cities need to deal with more people, more traffic, more pollutants and more energy consumption in a scalable and sustainable way. Cities occupy approximately three percent of the earth’s surface, but produce 50 percent of global waste, account for 60-80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions; and consume 75 percent of natural resources. That’s not surprising, now that urban dwellers out-number rural communities. (According to the UN, approximately 54 percent of the global population now lives in cities – a number that is expected to rise to 66 percent by 2050).

The second point is that smart cities have a crucial role to play in delivering on what the EU calls the circular economy. Eighty percent of global GDP is produced in cities, and the European Commission believes the circular economy, in which waste is considered a valuable resource, is a key plank in creating a more efficient and competitive future for Europe. Economically viable waste management reflects exactly this goal.

Collaborating for results

The third is the need for departments within the city authority to work together to achieve their goals. Solutions like SeAB’s cut across city’s plans for environment, transport, planning and construction. Data sourced by one department is likely to be of value to colleagues in another. Cross-departmental collaboration is essential.

This is what the City of San Jose is doing. With Intel, it has entered a public-private partnership project to further its Green Vision initiative. The project will help drive economic growth, foster 25,000 CleanTech jobs, create environmental sustainability and enhance the quality of life for its citizens – and has already been recognized by the White House as part of its Smart America initiative.

Powering the vision

We can see from the Cognicity Challenge, and Intel’s research that multiple initiatives from various sources will be needed to create smarter, more comfortable and more environmentally sustainable cities. Whether driven centrally by the city authority or by the coming together of private initiatives, there is a broad ecosystem involved.

For example, when it comes to more effective use of electricity – another key driver for smart city development – companies like Rudin in New York are exploring how the IoT and machine learning can improve productivity and efficiency in its buildings. A leading private manager of business and residential property in Manhattan, Rudin has developed an operational efficiency tool, Di-BOSS, that is based on the Intel IoT Gateway and which has already helped achieve seven percent savings in energy consumption.

On the residential front, homes are being transformed by automation systems such as Yoga Smart Home – also based on the Intel IoT Gateway.

Uniquely smart, distinctly intelligent

The important point is that livable, dynamic cities evolve over time and take into account the needs of their citizens. The move to smart is the next step in that evolution – and it is an evolution. Discrete elements are built up, with new layers of intelligence and new connections added over time.

In reality, we don’t really know exactly what the smart city will look like – there will be as many versions of the smart city as there are smart cities, with each developing its own unique vision to attract residents, businesses and workers.

As the possibilities of IoT expand, so more of our daily lives will be encompassed by the smart city concept. The solutions highlighted by the Cognicity Challenge are part of the story. There are others in development – but what they will all have in common is the flexibility needed to fit into any number of city implementations in order to be commercially viable.

What do you think? Will environmental issues be the key driver of the smart city? How do government departments collaborate more effectively on innovative technology? What’s the quickest road to really intelligent cities? Have your say in the comments below.

Rob Sheppard is IoT Product and Solutions Manager at Intel EMEA. Keep up with him on Twitter (@sheppardi) or check out his other posts on IT Peer Network.