The Internet of Things is reaching urban living. As the underlying technology of smart city solutions, it connects the urban infrastructure. A closer look.
Tokyo now has nearly 38 million residents, Jakarta more than 31 million and Delhi around 26 million: cities continue to attract new people. By 2030, 60 percent of the global population is expected to live in large cities. The consequences: fresh water scarcity, mountains of refuse, permanent traffic gridlock and air pollution. How can municipalities master these challenges with their tight budgets? One key is the smart city – connected and intelligent. It stands for a better quality of life and reduced resource consumption.
Car sharing is just the beginning
Cities around the world are implementing individual concepts on their way to becoming smart. Take car sharing, for example: just a few years ago, shared cars were exotic creatures in Germany's urban jungles. Today, premium car makers like BMW and Daimler – and now Opel operate car sharing services and with success: According to a forecast by consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, some 15 million car sharing customers are expected by 2020. It is made possible through connected cars and the spread of smartphones. GPS data helps users find the next available vehicle and the operator bills according to actual use.
Smart parking space search
Parking space guaranteed: according to a study commissioned by the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), German drivers waste 560 million hours looking for available parking spaces every year, costing millions of litres of fuel and blowing excessive amounts of exhaust into the air. As a result, many cities are looking for solutions to speed up the search. In the Spanish city of Santander, the Internet of Things is helping motorists: the town hall has embedded around four hundred sensors in the city center. These devices register which parking spaces are free or occupied and transmit this information to the cloud via wireless networks, where it uses connected lighting systems to direct motorists to the next available parking space.
Waste bins call for collection
In Amsterdam, digitization began with waste collection: the city equipped more than 2,000 waste bins with sensors. They register the current fill level and report this information to the central system via the cellular network. As a result, the waste disposal companies know exactly when a bin needs to be emptied. Instead of regular intervals, they now only collect the waste on demand, cutting down on time spent emptying half-full bins. The city has become cleaner, as the collection teams are emptying overflowing bins on time.
Data provides new insights
The analysis of IoT data also harbors great potential. In the Czech Republic, for example, the Rodos Transport Systems Development Center has developed a complex mobility model, based on data from the cellular networks and traffic monitoring systems. With this model, the Rodos team is able to advise police, fire departments and rescue services for planning and holding major events. Prague, the Czech capital, uses this model to optimize its public transportation services.
Open platforms and standards needed
At this point, cities are implementing individual IoT solutions to meet acute challenges. However, there is still a long way to go before we have completely connected smart cities. There are several reasons for this, many of them related to responsibility. Currently, the individual administrative bodies involved in the smart city mostly work independently from one another. To capture the full potential and synergy effects, cities have to consolidate the activities of all their departments and involve residents in the innovation processes. Some cities – such as Glasgow, Brussels and Atlanta – have appointed "smart city managers" to perform this task.
The greatest challenge: developing internationally uniform open standards and platforms for connecting smart traffic lights, parking spaces, waste bins and other parts of the infrastructure with one another without great effort. Such a global standard for the smart city has yet to be developed. They are still under development or differ by country and use case. As a result, many cities are building their own platforms, which connect the different IT solutions to one another and ensure that the smart city speaks a common language. These platforms also simplify the administration of the connected devices and data.
As they become more dependent on ICT solutions, however, cities also have to keep IT security in mind and protect themselves against cyber-attacks. In addition, the cellular network has to be able to cope with the demands of a connected city. New wireless communication standards such as 5G and Narrow-Band IoT are needed to transfer small amounts of data over long distances. Moreover, a network failure should only result in a few optional services being unavailable and not lead to a total meltdown of the urban infrastructure.