“Competition between Cities” has started
Smart city projects are among the most exciting technological initiatives around today and will play a major role in the world’s future growth. Modern technology lets us track and monitor pretty much anything in a major urban environment – noise, light, traffic, weather and so on – and use this data to improve people’s living and working conditions.
Traffic and parking availability is one area of smart city projects that is leveraging new technology to drive real change. New technology is emerging all the time that lets us manipulate networks more finely, taking advantage of more sensors, more cameras and more real-time data to improve road traffic.
Recent research showed that the average UK motorist spends over 2,500 hours in their lifetime driving around looking for car parking spaces. That’s an enormous 106 days – and in a hectic, built-up city like London, it takes an average of 20 minutes to find a parking space. Other statistics show that up to 30 per cent of city traffic is created by people driving around looking for an available parking space.
With population and vehicle figures always rising, it is hard to see these numbers falling without any kind of intervention. The UN estimates that by 2050 the world’s population will reach 9 billion people, the majority of this growth taking place in cities. This means urban populations will have grown to 6.3 billion by 2050, more than double the 2.8 billion living in cities today. So with all those extra people on the roads, tracking and controlling car and general traffic movements in a more intelligent, detailed way, will become vital.
Taming the beast
Technology provides the tools to make managing this ever-increasing traffic a reality. There are three key elements to dealing with this urban traffic as we move forward – identifying the problem, keeping road users informed and deploying smart mechanisms to keep traffic flowing. Addressing these lets us approach the issue progressively and practically.
Data monitoring and communicating with end-user mobile device apps is already part of modern urban living. We can receive the latest overground and subway train information direct to our smartphones when commuting, helping make the journey to work less of a hassle. Regarding traffic flow, one of the most interesting developments I have seen more of recently was in a “smart car park”, where sensors detect whether or not a car is parked in a particular spot and communicate that to drivers who have just arrived, telling them where available parking spaces with visual indicators of red and green lights – again saving time and keeping traffic flowing.
This model would work in a major city too. Smart cities already have technology in place to install a ‘mesh’ over the whole urban environment, with sensors installed to transmit real-time traffic data across the network. Sensors placed on buildings and on kerbsides could determine whether or not there is a car parked in a space and communicate this information to smartphone users – it could even bring Satellite Navigation and mapping technology into the mix to deliver true, real-time parking information to drivers. Drivers could save both time and frustration – forewarned is forearmed.
Powering the cities of the future
Faster mobile networks are at the heart of smart cities and are enabling people to do more on the move. As networks offer more cloud-based services and storage, this in turn leads to richer content and apps being available to end-users, which both informs and is informed by ever-smarter mobile devices.Smarter devices, faster networks and the cloud becoming ubiquitous all combine to power greater consumption of digital content – in short, users want more data all the time and want it now.
The Internet of Things (IoT) will also play a key role in smart city development. The sheer weight of Big Data generated by the IoT will impact everywhere, particularly on things like traffic flow – town planners will be able to gather the data, analyse it and use it to tailor future policy and projects.
The changing nature of the city as we know it
As smart cities get smarter we’ll be able to introduce new, joined-up services, based on gathering data through sensors and delivering it to smart devices to make life easier for both citizens and administrations. As well as projects like smart traffic management there are other knock-on benefits to be had – for example, parking space sensors could also be used to detect street temperatures in real-time, and tell municipalities whether they need to send out snow ploughs today.
Smart cities are very much about making yesterday’s dreams today’s reality. Back in the mid-twentieth century there was much talk of traffic jams and urban congestion being eliminated in the future. Technology has helped change the very nature of a city and encourage investment in smart cities as a result. Cities began life as religious centers which in time became defence centres and subsequently market centres and industrial centers. In the information era, cities will evolve to become innovation centres, and as economic competition becomes more about competition between cities rather than just countries, having high levels of innovation and skilled people will be key. The smarter the city, the higher its innovation levels and the better equipped it will be to compete in the economic marketplace.