New age technology solutions are at the centre of smart city development. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), blockchain and cloud are the foundation blocks of smart cities. A smart city is characterised by intelligent solutions and systems. The higher the level of technological advancement in a city’s processes, the more efficient is the functioning and management of its various public systems and services.
A look at the emerging technologies and their applications in smart cities…
According to a KPMG report, the IoT ecosystem, with a large volume of sensor-based, citizen-centric and big data analytics solutions, provides the right platform to manage and monitor the modern urban landscape. In fact, IoT will be fundamental to most smart city projects and is expected to have a potential economic value of $4 trillion-$11 trillion annually by 2025, as per the report. India alone has a mandate to create an IoT industry worth $15 billion by 2020.
The applications of IoT in a smart city are manifold, including smart street lighting, smart waste management, smart parking, smart traffic management system and smart environment monitoring. An IoT-based lighting system provides an energy efficient solution. Unlike a traditional lighting system, which has fixed and undifferentiated lighting levels, smart lighting adapts to the weather conditions and can automatically dim or brighten the lights depending on the time of day and by using a human presence detection technique. Further, in an IoT-based lighting system, lighting failures are automatically reported and fixed in real time, which is not possible in a traditional lighting system wherein failure inspection is a manual process. Moreover, the digital system smartly plans the maintenance work for the entire city and creates maintenance routes.
One of the key features of a smart city is the generation of a large amount of data through various connected devices. For the effective storage and management of this data, there is a need to deploy solutions that can be scaled up rapidly. This is where cloud computing plays a key role. The cloud provides a platform for data collection via various interconnected devices and sensors, and is readily available for use by both the government as well as private stakeholders. Moreover, the cloud offers greater accessibility and scalability for the delivery of services as it possesses the processing capacity and capability needed to analyse the enormous amount of data that is generated on a city’s network. The technical support required to build a smart city is provided by cloud computing. It also offers the facility of automatic backup. If a single computer connected to the cloud crashes, it does not affect all the data that is stored on the cloud, hence making it a reliable and safe data storage centre. Given the various benefits of the cloud for a smart city, its adoption is expected to grow manyfold in the near future.
The government’s smart cities initiative can be implemented in a more efficient way by using AI-based solutions. AI technologies can be put to use across various verticals such as healthcare, agriculture, education, traffic management and surveillance.
The technology can be used to read licence plates and recognise faces to track stolen cars, identify expired registrations and issue tickets in case of any driving-related offences. It can also be used to track the speed and movement of vehicles to establish patterns. Adaptive signal control technology allows traffic lights to change their timing based on real-time data. It can also be used to monitor and control street lighting, park maintenance, pavement maintenance, etc. to reduce operational costs. Moreover, intelligent security solutions can be deployed to check the movement of suspects, identify potential crimes, detect potential cyberattacks and take the necessary steps to prevent unwanted activities.
The government is still exploring the plethora of potential applications that blockchain technology has to offer for smart cities. That said, a series of blockchain-based proofs of concept have been developed by the industry as per an Inc42 study. The technology has use cases in voting, security, land registration, logistics, healthcare, power distribution, banking, education, government record keeping, etc. The reason blockchain is a suitable solution for providing these services is that it eliminates the need for human intervention. Integrating blockchain into city systems brings in adaptability, accountability, transparency, accuracy and efficiency.
As highlighted by the Inc42 study, blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that stores information across a number of systems, enabling peer-to-peer transactions and creating a trust-free, secure distributed storage using a validation process based on consensus. This is a democratic process as a blockchain network does not need any intermediary entity for any sort of validation. Once data is recorded in a block and added to the blockchain network, it cannot be deleted or manipulated. This brings in transparency and eliminates the scope for data manipulation.
Smart cities are known for producing large amounts of data. This data contains valuable citizen information that has to be kept secure. With the rise in concerns regarding data privacy and storage, blockchain will emerge as the go-to technology to address these issues.
Everything in a smart city is interconnected. To support this interconnectivity, the network is required to be agile, fast and seamless. While technologies such as IoT, AI, M2M, blockchain and cloud make a city smart and enable the provision of services in a much more efficient and effective manner, all such services will cease to exist if the network that these solutions run on is not robust. The launch of 5G is expected to improve network connectivity significantly. 5G offers better coverage, faster speeds, lower latencies and higher bandwidth than 3G and 4G. With these features, it is able ensure greater reliability and improve overall user experience. Going forward, 5G will support the deployment of M2M communication and IoT applications in smart cities by providing a robust network. This network will enable real-time monitoring of systems, which is one of the key features of a smart city. Moreover, 5G networks will enable street lights to monitor the traffic flow. Smart grids connected with the 5G network will be able to reduce electricity peaks and blackouts. Thus, wireless connectivity offered by 5G will be a key component of all smart cities.
The way forward
Recently, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs announced its plans to roll out the Smart City 2.0 Mission in 2020. In order to make the Smart Cities Mission a success, the government will have to take a more active role in creating a favourable ecosystem for the deployment of these new age technologies, which are the building blocks of smart cities. These technologies complement each other and the deployment of one without the other might not give the desired results. Going forward, the government needs to devise new strategies and introduce incentives for the vendor community to encourage their participation in the mission.