Preparing Cities for the Internet of Things

There are major changes on the horizon as more and more cities are built and retrofitted for the Internet of Things.

Future of Cities2Over the past few months, we have talked at length about the cities of the future—both opportunities and challenges that come with the expected population increase over the next 15 years.

What are cities doing to prepare for increasing demands on infrastructure, sanitation, healthcare systems, and sustainability? How can technology ease this transition—and what new complexities does it introduce?

Last month, we talked about the rise of the tech-powered connected city, particularly in India, where Prime Minister Narenda Modi has an ambitious plan to create 100 smart cities.

As more and more cities are built and retrofitted for the Internet of Things—as cities connect everyday objects like traffic signals, light poles, and electric meters—we can expect to see major changes in how they operate. As governments collect more real-time usage data on public systems, they should become better able to manage and respond to the needs of their constituents.

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Building the smart city of the future starts with improving technological infrastructure.

Building the smart city of the future starts with improving the technological infrastructure. Yet most local governments do not have the resources to take on this initiative.

While there certainly will be some cities that are constructed to make the best use of the Internet of Things—like Songdo, South Korea, which has a technology infrastructure that will support connected devices—most will face a more challenging road to becoming “smart.”

That means taking on improvements to infrastructure and public systems more slowly over time. What are some of the improvements cities are prioritizing?

Water management. Equipped with sensor technology, water systems can anticipate when to empty rain catch basins to make way for water from an incoming storm. This reduces the threat of being overwhelmed in a severe storm—and serves as a template for how to use real-time data to effectively manage and respond to the environment.

Traffic monitoring. Barcelona—an advanced smart city—uses the Internet of Things to monitor traffic and parking. Streetlights that check traffic flows and pollution levels improve quality of life for those on the road and reduce congestion and pollution in the city.

Energy efficiency. As companies like Nest make monitoring—and maximizing—energy efficiency easier for consumers, products will increasingly begin to communicate with cities’ power grids. More data about how the system is working for consumers throughout the city means more efficiency and bigger savings across the urban environment. For example, electric vehicles (cars and delivery trucks) will be able to sense how best to draw power from the grid. Experiments are already underway on this technology in London and elsewhere.

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There has never been a better time to be an engineer.

Setting off to construct such systems requires more than just access to the right technology. Securing approvals and agreements on mandatory policy changes from government officials may prove to be harder than implementing the technology itself.

Many cities will struggle to keep up with the pace of change required to implement these systems effectively, especially as demand intensifies to attract those with the right technical skills to move these initiatives forward. There has never been a better time to be an engineer!

Securing the talent and resources to take these projects on will prove challenging for cities, but will become a competitive necessity for cities competing in the new economy. goldbrown2

Peter Harris is Director of Sustainability for UPS Europe. He has worked for UPS for 27 years, holding positions as UK Automotive Director, as well as UK Industrial Engineering Director. He holds a Masters in Engineering from Cambridge University, UK, and is a Chartered Engineer and Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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