By Straight Talk Editors

Smart Cities are expected to drive over 5% incremental growth in global economic development which is about USD 20 trillion in additional economic benefits by 2026, according to a report from ABI Research.

Rising Urbanization and Smart Cities

This isn’t surprising when we consider that the development of smart cities comes at a critical time and may be the key to improving the lives of billions of city-dwellers. The UN Population Fund estimates that the number of people in urban areas is expected to reach 5 billion by 2030, further straining national resources and posing serious infrastructure challenges such as transportation, water and waste management, energy efficiency, and emergency services. 

But with Smart Cities, a myriad emerging and existing technologies, such as cyber-physical systems (based on the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine connectivity), 5G networks, machine learning, artificial intelligence, automation, robotics, and data analytics, can be smartly leveraged to provide the necessary solutions.

For technologists, corporations, and government agencies, smart cities are a convergence point for collaborative innovation and experimentation. At Straight Talk, we seek to share the experience-based insights of technology executives. Here are their views of the opportunities for technological convergence in smart cities:

Eliminating Traffic Congestion

Rich Strader, Vice President of Mobility Product Solutions at the Ford Motor Company, is oriented towards freeing cities from traffic congestion while keeping the environment green, clean, and open - free from parked and idle cars clogging up the streets.

To further this goal, Ford has partnered with a Silicon Valley-based company called Autonomic, to devise solutions based on cloud and distributed systems. Together, they are developing an open cloud-based platform called the Transportation Mobility Cloud that brings together mobile and machine learning technologies to manage information flow across diverse components of the transportation ecosystem.

Strader describes the Transportation Mobility Cloud as an all-encompassing framework within which vast quantities of data can be logged and processed in real-time. By addressing the challenge of enabling seamless communications enabling smart city services such as autonomous vehicles. The platform standardizes the performance, security, and other foundational elements of interconnectivity between devices and systems, while also being perennially scalable and adaptable, which is essential for a city scale model.

Creating a Citizen-Centric Process

Miguel Gamiño was brought on as New York City’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in late 2016, to primarily bear the responsibility of facilitating a smart city and Internet of Things (IoT) strategy. He has since partnered with NYCx - the city’s technology engagement program that reaches out to local residents to solve urban challenges such as to develop advancements in high-speed wireless internet and 5G connectivity.

As a public service representative, Gamiño strongly pushes for community participation when defining problem areas in urban settings. In fact, he describes the NYCx program’s top priority being to transform and activate the partnership between industry, government, and communities. As a result, his focus remains on direct technological solutions towards issues that the community finds most pressing.

Gamiño’s vision of smart cities begins with first identifying the problem, then seeking out the right technology to solve it. He points out that in a city like New York, with its incredible diversity and subtle cultural differences across boroughs, it is unwise to force technologies onto the public. So Gamiño believes in taking a people-driven approach to smart cities.

This is the thought which eventually led to the launch of a Wi-Fi enabled public kiosks network that supports sign language video calling and allows hearing-impaired users to use American Sign Language at public information kiosks, or on computers and mobile devices, to obtain access to the city. According to Gamiño, the challenges of a smart city aren’t purely technological, rather they require more attention on local culture, and issues of inclusivity and equitable innovations.

Innovate solutions with local partners

Anil Menon, President of Smart+Connected Communities and the Deputy Chief Globalization Officer at Cisco Systems, believes that the private sector’s risk-taking ability and access to funds can address the needs of urban governance when developing smart cities and serving the public.

He refers to the Indian Smart Cities Mission as an encouraging step in the right direction. The Indian Government’s Smart Cities Mission was launched in 2015 when the nation pledged to develop 100 brownfield and greenfield cities by 2020. With USD 15 billion in starter funds approved for this purpose, the government has partnered with various private players for technological support to make this mission a success.

For Menon, the Smart Cities Mission is an opportunity to engage with government and further innovation in this new frontier. The company has partnered with the Electronics City Industries Association, to create the Cisco IoE Innovation Hub in Bengaluru, that is giving start-up companies the opportunity to pitch solutions for City Infrastructure Management such as smart parking, advanced CCTV surveillance, street lighting and energy management, water management and community messaging.

Menon believes that local technology start-ups that focus on solving urban challenges can leverage their deep understanding of local subtleties to build innovative, efficient, and bespoke technology solutions.

Starting small and taking risks

Jonathan Reichental, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the city of Palo Alto is recognized as one of the top 20 CIOs in the U.S. A well-known public figure, he travels the world to spread the word about smart cities and govtech, while tending to the urban needs of 67,000 people in Palo Alto. Reichental looks at this smart city through a prism of workability, sustainability, and livability and aims to make technology a seamless and value-adding part of everyday life

His focus is on making the daily lives of Palo Alto’s citizens simpler and more productive. To accomplish this, he has focused on the basics such as developing mobile apps which help speed up routine processes like paying parking tickets or reporting a local issue. The PaloAlto311 app allows members of the community to report issues like graffiti, fallen trees, or other similar problems by simply taking a picture. This app now has over 60 digitized services and is instrumental in bringing people a step closer to their own smart city.

The app has not only changed and improved the small and routine tasks but also revealed new data that can help city planners think differently about big issues. The app also offers open data in real-time so the whole community, including academics, technologists, and residents, can use it to devise solutions. He believes smart cities require a joint effort between residents and planners to use this data to make better and more innovative decisions, which can sometimes even call for increased risk-taking.

Reichental believes that as a general rule, bigger cities come with bigger budgets which allows city planners the chance to tackle multiple projects simultaneously. For a small city, however, the priority falls on the speed of action and ease of measuring results. But there is no scenario where some unique formula or solution can be magically applied to all cities alike to smarten them up. 

The organic evolution of smart cities

Yan Lida, President of Huawei Enterprise Business Group, visualizes the smart city network as a living organism with the brain or the control center, gathering information through peripheral nerves which are essentially the sensory network. Similarly, Lida’s vision for smart cities is a utopia of connectivity, requiring a seamless nexus between the digital and offline ecosystem.

Lida believes that creating a network that grants complete visibility through real-time data is key to materializing the smart city ambition. He explains that governments must prioritize administration reformation and partner with capable project teams to achieve true advancement.

The focus for Lida and Huawei has been to push for the necessary infrastructural reforms that can make this possible. To achieve this goal, Huawei has launched an Intelligent Operation Centre (IOC) that is responsible for the accumulation and monitoring of data, while also running analytical operations to help city planners make better decisions. The IOC utilizes an Integrated Communications Platform (ICP) at the functional epicenter of operations to deploy AI and machine learning to further these insights.

Ultimately, the core values of any smart city are defined by its people and their needs, more than simply technology. And as millions of people flock to cities in search of a better opportunity, the city has to be a place where they feel at home and empowered to pursue their aspirations. The smart city of the future is a more human city.