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IoT lays the pathway to smart cities of the future

Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, which is expected to increase to nearly 70% by 2050, according to the UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs. If smart cities are both required now — and in the future — then IoT technology is the pathway to the connected world of computers and devices that share data with each other to increase efficiency.

IoT technology comes with a set of challenges and obstacles to overcome, but it can create connectivity across disparate assets to maximize efficiencies in ways never previously possible, ultimately changing the way local governments conduct business, handle everyday life and crises, and budget their time and money.

With the right planning and IoT implementation, the varying levels of smart cities can prove successful for municipalities across the globe.

Opportunities of smart cities

What makes a true smart city or community? Having a network of connected devices in and around a city to keep tabs on what’s happening might sound invasive, but the benefits are endless. From regulating the flow of traffic to knowing the exact location of where to send a repair crew to fix a pothole, smart cities are just that: smart.

For example, let’s say a fire breaks out in an office building. Sensors connected to the network will send immediate alerts to a central command center. Those same sensors could even determine the speed at which the fire is growing, how many people are trapped and whether the building is safe for firefighters to enter. This information, coupled with building information modeling, can provide the first responders with the critical structural details, such as the location of water valves, gas lines and air ducts, to effectively manage the situation and minimize damage as much as possible.

Furthermore, the smart grid would help allocate the proper resources and reduce the risk to everyone involved. For example, geo-location tools can change traffic lights along the route to control the flow of traffic, enabling first responders to reach an incident location as quickly as possible.

IoT could also create a data history of the number of cars on the road at any given time and how many passengers are taking specific trains at various times throughout the day. Knowing this, the system could make predictions with amazing accuracy that could then trigger other smart systems, such as traffic lights and train switches, to work in sync to keep everyone moving and the city running.

IoT “provides the senses and nervous system, along with some of the muscles needed to really deliver on the smart city promise,” said, David Mudd, the Global Digital and Connected Product Certification Director at BSI.

“The ability to know exactly what is going on in real time across all aspects of the city’s infrastructure and how it is being used, and act on this information with minimal human interaction, has amazing potential to improve the quality and efficiency of services,” said Mudd.

Challenges to overcome

Like any new technology, the use of IoT requires overcoming some challenges. However, there are tools and resources, such as the international standard for sustainable cities and communities (ISO), that can help guide the development and implementation of smart cities.

Not surprisingly, at or near the top of the list of smart cities related concerns are data security. How safe is the data that’s being collected? Where is it being stored? Is it encrypted? One worry is that criminals could worm their way into the protected network through any IoT device, such as smart TVs, thermostats or even light bulbs. IoT devices and their data must be protected, and information security must be managed.

Another challenge is that a city could spend millions of dollars on a system that either doesn’t work as designed or doesn’t work at all. Imagine the catastrophic frustration that could occur in an urban environment if there was a denial of service on the traffic light system during rush hour. The system must work for protection to occur or for efficiencies to be realized.

“If you can’t trust the product to work as it should or trust the data it produces, then connectivity is an expensive, and possibly dangerous, waste,” said Mudd.

It is also important to consider that getting all the connected devices to work in harmony with each other will likely take some time. The sheer volume of data sets and devices, all of which require varying times to update and process information, will lead to hiccups. There could also be additional costs to remedying any problems related to this, so city governments need to be prepared and budget properly.

Finally, a detailed contingency plan must be in place for dealing with various incidents and scenarios, along with clear directions around who owns and manages the data being collected.

Solutions to common smart city challenges

A city connected through a network of devices, both wired and wireless, has endless benefits. And despite the challenges that will arise, ISO has a framework to overcome them. Recognizing that no two smart cities are the same, ISO 37106 offers a citizen-centric approach that prioritizes the needs of the community first, and offers all stakeholders a guide to help operationalize the vision, strategy and policies needed to become a smart city.

In addition, municipalities should do their homework and research the companies that offer smart solutions. During the implementation process, it is critical to meet with stakeholders in the project, including citizens all the way up to local, state and perhaps even federal leaders.

An important part of the process is listening to what everyone’s concerns might be, creating a list of action items and coming up with solutions. How transparent will you be with the data? How will law enforcement use it? Will the data be stored indefinitely, and how safe will it be? These questions will need answers.

Municipalities must “independently verify that a product or system will work as it should, safely and securely throughout its intended life,” said Mudd. Municipalities must also provide advice and training to stakeholders regarding best practices.

The cities of tomorrow have the potential to efficiently maintain themselves with minimal human input and take a lot of risk out of the equation thanks to IoT. There’s no better time than now to start the planning process.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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