Creating the Infrastructure of Smart Cities

NYC from the Empire State Building

‘Smart Cities’ might seem like another buzzword du jour, but in reality it is a promising technological transition that is transforming cities into their most effective and efficient selves. The need for smart cities is urgent. As urban populations continue to increase exponentially, space and resources are at a premium. In the US, for instance, urban centers already account for 82.3% of the entire population.

With an increasing number of people sharing limited amounts of natural resources, scarcity has become a serious issue. When environmental factors and the pressing need to reduce carbon emissions and protect public health are added in, these pressures have led to an increasing number of municipalities looking to smart city initiatives which can optimize the performance of public services and increase the quality of life of its citizens.

By connecting disparate infrastructure networks, there is the opportunity to add significant intelligence to how we plan out and operate our cities. The data generated and processed by IoT technology enables city planners to reduce waste and streamline services, saving money and resources.

 

Streamlining Services and Resources

In Kansas City, a new smart sensor initiative is making it easier for drivers to locate free parking spaces and navigate through rush hour traffic, and soon “the city will use big data to drive decisions to save money through more efficient repairs and maintenance of streets, water lines, and other infrastructure.” As congestion in cities gets worse, initiatives like this can lead to vehicles spending less time on our roads, translating into less carbon emissions and improved quality of life for road users.

Clean Streets LA is a smart city initiative dating from 2016. All 22,000 miles of streets in Los Angeles were evaluated by the Bureau of Sanitation and each was given a ‘clean score’ of 1, 2 or 3, 1 being clean and 3 very unclean. Factors include litter, weeds, bulky items and illegal dumping. This process is repeated each quarter, and all this data greatly assists the Bureau of Sanitation in strategically deploying resources. Authorities are able to focus resources on high priority areas, such as areas surrounding schools, and also by deploying additional garbage cans in areas with large amounts of litter.

As traditional energy sources like coal are phased out, it is imperative that there are new and sustainable methods of generating and managing energy. A great example of this in an urban setting is the city of Reykjavik, Iceland. Authorities have been tapping into geothermal heat, which is readily available there due to the country’s volcanic topography. “Ninety percent of Iceland’s buildings use this method, including the floors of parking lots and even roads (to keep them ice-free). The same geological activity that keeps Icelandic volcanoes smoking is also used to sustainably improve urban – and national – quality of life.” Another great example of smart energy usage is in Copenhagen, where “district heating centralizes heating production and distributes it along networks of underground pipes – reducing both the carbon footprint and energy production costs.”

 

A New Digital Era Of Smart Living

Microsoft has labeled this evolution the ‘digital era’, a period which is going to transform many “problems created in the earlier agricultural and industrial eras, making society safer, more sustainable, more efficient and more inclusive.” Fathym is very much a part of this digital era, and was recently invited by Microsoft to discuss this in New York City.

Flexibility is imperative for the successful development of smart cities, where it is essential to be able to harmonize disparate data streams and applications together. Our technology addresses the infrastructure gaps in cities by effectively streamlining data. As our co-founder and CMO Christy Szoke noted, “too often, cities don’t have a plan worked out and are pouring millions of dollars into one solution, which is difficult to adjust to evolving needs and often leads to inaccessible, siloed data.”

For example, our WeatherCloud service combines data from in-vehicle sensors and roadside weather stations to create hyper-local weather forecasts for drivers and maintenance providers, enhancing driver safety and effective deployment of resources (such as snow plows). By effectively connecting the infrastructures and networks that operate our cities, the possibilities for not only driving efficiencies, but transforming the way we live and work are endless. It is by no means an easy challenge, but by developing small proof of concepts through technological frameworks that offer flexibility and scalability, we can make our cities safer, more comfortable and more convenient.