Are smart cities inevitable or do tech-filled towns need careful planning?
Nitrous founder George Johnston catches up with thought leaders in the Smart City ecosystem on a TechRadar piece.
The smart city is where the Internet of Things and big data crash into each other. Myriad devices fitted with sensors gathering data are instantly cross-referenced on a citywide scale to increase efficiency and create new services.
The streetlights that only switch on when there’s someone in the vicinity, the train station that automatically opens more ticket barriers and even re-routes trains at busy times, or the home thermostat that warms up a house when it detects that the owner has left work and is travelling home, taking into account real-time traffic conditions.
That’s all very smart, but is the very concept of the smart city simply technological progress with a cute name?
What makes a city so smart?
The smart city is not about sensors. It’s about data, and what you do with it. “Many of the things happening in today’s smart cities could more honestly be labelled as progress,” says David Socha, Utilities Practice Leader at Teradata, name-checking both smart homes and smart parking. “What will make a city actually become smart is the integration and analysis of data from otherwise potentially disparate initiatives.”
If the goal is genuinely integrated public, private and personal transport systems, and saving energy in homes, offices and vehicles, then the smart city needs three things – structured data, big data, and machine-to-machine data. Structured data is weather forecasts, demographics and public transport performance statistics.
“Slightly more fun is big data from all sorts of social media,” says Socha. “This can be valuable for sentiment analysis, tailoring services and offers, all sorts of business-to-customer or perhaps city-to-customer relationships,” he says.
Thirdly comes M2M – machine-to-machine, also known as the Internet of Things – and this is where it gets tricky.