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Are smart cities the solution for the future?

Smart city is a term that has become popular in recent years, although ancient Roman cities could already be considered as such, with their use of technology (such as aqueducts and water drainage systems) to make life easier for their citizens.

Below, we explain different aspects of smart cities: what they are, what their goals are, how they work, what their benefits are and also their drawbacks.


WHAT IS A SMART CITY?

The term "smart city" is used in many different ways and although there is no conclusive definition, it can be described as: A city that, thanks to the use of new technologies (information and communication), manages to be sustainable and efficient. In other words, it is a city that uses technology to provide services and solve problems.

Within any smart city project, we can find areas as diverse as energy, mobility, urban planning, administration and communication, as well as the connections between them.


WHAT ARE THE MAIN OBJECTIVES OF A SMART CITY?

As mentioned earlier in the definition, the most important objective is to create sustainable and efficient cities (not only environmentally but also politically, economically and socially) while addressing the problems arising from factors such as demographic change, population growth, pollution, climate change and resource scarcity.


WHO CREATES SMART CITIES?

And the answer may surprise more than one... It is not (only) engineers and specialists but mainly citizens. People (ourselves, our objects and our daily activities) constantly interact with the technologies around us and thus provide much of the relevant data for designing smart cities.


HOW DO SMART CITIES WORK?

Smart cities are primarily based on the internet of things (IoT).

In many cities, a network of different types of connected sensors and devices transmit data (such as parking occupancy, transport use, etc.) via wireless technology and the cloud.

As mentioned above, citizens also interact with smart cities in a variety of ways, mainly through the use of mobile phones, connected cars and homes.

Among the types of sensors scattered around the city we can find those that:

  • Measure solar radiation.
  • Measure air and water quality.
  • Detect traffic jams. Like connected traffic lights that receive data from cars and can adjust their operation to respond to traffic in real time.
  • Count the number of pedestrians.
  • Reduce stret lighting when there are no people or vehicles around, saving electricity.
  • And many more.

Thanks to software and applications, all the data generated can be received, analysed and managed in real time to help municipalities, businesses and citizens make the right decisions to improve the quality of life.

In summary:

  • Data collection through sensors, mobile devices and connected objects.
  • Analysis of the collected data to obtain meaningful information.
  • Communication of the knowledge gained from the data analysis.
  • Action, as this knowledge is used to create solutions, optimise operations and asset management and improve the quality of life of residents.


THE USE OF RENEWABLE ENERGY AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY, ANOTHER PILLAR OF SMART CITIES

As mentioned, energy efficiency is one of the main objectives of smart cities. We have already described, for example, the use of smart sensors to dim street lighting when there are no cars or pedestrians in the vicinity. In addition, smart grid technology can be used to improve operations, maintenance and planning, as well as to deliver power on demand and control power outages.

Another important aspect of smart cities in terms of sustainability is the use of renewable energy. For example, the installation of photovoltaic panels for street lighting.

Smart buildings are also often part of a smart city project. Old buildings can be refurbished and new infrastructures already built with energy efficiency concepts in mind and the use of sensors not only for energy efficiency but also for other aspects such as: monitoring the structural health of buildings, detecting leaks in the water network and other piping systems...


WHAT DOES THE SUCCESS OF SMART CITIES DEPEND ON?

The main factors that determine and will determine how well smart cities work are:

  • Connectivity: The thousands or millions of IoT sensors, devices and objects scattered throughout the city are of little use without connectivity.

While there is no single solution, the low power wide area network (LPWAN) technologies being developed are well suited to most smart city applications because of their cost-effectiveness and ubiquity. These include LTE Cat M, NB-IoT, LoRa, Bluetooth.... In addition, the advent of 5G technology is expected to boost smart cities.

  • Data sharing: As a general rule, privacy concerns and fear of security breaches still dominate across all sectors (governments, businesses and individuals). However, sharing data and information is a key factor in the operation and sustainability of smart cities.
  • Security: While data sharing is essential, it also opens the door to questions and dangers such as: should data always be anonymised, who verifies the veracity of data, how data is protected against hacking, cyber-attacks and theft... The answer lies in physical data storage devices and authentication and identity management solutions. Smart cities can only work if we can trust them.


Luxsystems is a company based in Mallorca (Spain) and Mexico with experience in the smart cities sector and we have participated in the development of installations under the "smart" concept in cities in Chile and Mexico, as well as in the Mexico City metro, highways and ports.


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