Urbanization is a rapidly-growing phenomenon. As per the United Nations estimates, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. All this necessitates the development of smart-city initiatives backed by environmental, social, and economic sustainability to keep pace with the rapid expansion that will impinge heavily on cities’ resources worldwide.
Among many recent technological leaps, the advent of 5G technology is bound to have a transformative effect on the smart city development. It will accelerate a combination of smart sensors, universal platform, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Internet of Things (IoT), energy harvesting, cloud computing, and open source technologies, compatible with Next Generation Networks (NGN).
Let’s have a look at some of the new technological advances that promise to boost the growth of smarter, safer, cleaner cities.
Intelligent sensors are used for monitoring environmental pollution and other parameters. The design and development of smart sensors, a universal interfacing platform, along with the IoT framework, is not only a breakthrough in the environmental monitoring domain, but also in the many more areas of the smart city such as smart home, wearables, smart waste management, smart E-metering, smart water supply, intelligent traffic control, smart grid, and remote health care applications.
Data from intelligent sensors is extracted and processed to implement innovative programs or solutions associated with everyday aspects of city life, such as utility poles, water lines, buses, traffic lights, etc. Sensors make the data available to a broader community through remote access cloud computing.
Since smart sensors rely on power from the wireless links used to transmit data, energy efficiency and security are priority areas. Now efforts are underway to develop more secure sensors that are power-efficient and easy to control and monitor. Smart-city solution providers, system integrators, software/chip designers are working in tandem to cater to the demand for low-power chips, and more secure sensors. These are giving smart cities a wide range of new applications that will help improve infrastructures and services.
Microchip, Analog Devices (ADI), and NXP are some of the chipmakers that are actively working to develop better chip designs that meet low-power requirements for battery-power applications. Manufacturers are producing many battery-operated smart sensors driven by microcontroller units (MCUs). The latest ARM Cortex-M processor, the Cortex-M23, specifically targets IoT devices and power efficiency to handle power in active and sleep phases of MCUs with the same energy efficiency of the Cortex-M0+.
Wireless connectivity and IoT technology
Reliable, pervasive wireless connectivity is one of the pillars of smart cities. The ICT framework is essentially an intelligent network of connected objects and machines that transmit data using wireless technology and the cloud. IoT applications help communities in improving energy distribution, streamline trash collection, decrease traffic congestion, and enhance the quality of air as well.
Municipalities, enterprises, and citizens can make better decisions that improve quality of life with the help of cloud-based IoT applications that receive, analyze, and manage data in real-time.
With the help of innovative IoT solutions, governments are now leveraging cellular and Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies to connect and improve infrastructure, efficiency, convenience, and quality of life for residents and visitors alike. LPWAN technologies are rapidly evolving to achieve cost efficiency and ubiquity. The technologies such as LTE Cat M, NB-IoT, LoRa, Bluetooth, and a few others are all contributing to the fabric of smart cities.
Smartphones and mobile devices, as well as connected cars and homes, help citizens engage with smart city ecosystems in a variety of ways. By pairing devices and data with a city’s physical infrastructure and services, it is possible to cut costs and improve sustainability.
Traditional elements of city life – such as streetlights – can be transformed into next-generation intelligent lighting platforms with expanded capabilities. Connected cars can communicate with parking meters and electric vehicle (EV) charging docks and direct drivers to the nearest available open spot. Charging might even be possible from the lamppost itself soon.
Further plans include integrating solar power and connecting to a cloud-based central control system that connects to other assets in the ecosystem. High-power embedded LEDs can alert commuters about traffic issues, provide severe weather and mishap warnings. Sensors and cars adjusting light cadence and timing help connected traffic lights receive data to respond to real-time traffic, thereby reducing road congestion.
Battery-powered voice-control smart speakers are characterized by ultra-low power consumption (active and standby) and real-time response. With the proper choice of flash-memory architecture, their performance and cost can be optimized.
As users want long battery life, the battery-powered smart speakers must have ultra-low energy consumption while in an idle state. They must also provide immediate response once the users speak their command word. But smart speakers can be effective only when they keep average power consumption low enough to be able to run from batteries. They need not be required to be connected to external power all the time. So, a power-efficient AI system becomes imperative.
As real-time AI algorithms require a great deal of CPU horsepower, the need is for a large, powerful CPU with lots of memory. And, as users want long battery life, the system must have ultra-low energy consumption while AI algorithms try to detect the wake-up word in quickly. The device must be able to provide immediate response once users speak their command word.
These requirements cannot be achieved with just one CPU core and one memory system. The solution is use of two or more cores, with different memory systems. It can be in the form of two separate MCUs or a single-chip system-on-chip (SoC) with a multi-core CPU, a single MCU, an AI accelerator, a GPU, or any of such combination. These system require memory that ranges from a few hundred megabytes to several gigabytes, unlike systems that are limited to handling only a few spoken commands that require much less memory.
Case studies in sustainable smart city
The goal of smart cities is to improve the quality of life for its citizens through technological means by integrating technology, information, and data solutions with sustainability as the key value. Smart garbage can automatically send data to waste management companies and schedule the pick-up as and when needed instead of a pre-planned schedule.
As a smart city follows a predominantly ICT framework, it endeavors to develop, deploy, and promote sustainable development practices to address growing urbanization challenges.
The city of Columbus in the US has proposed the deployment of three electric self-driving shuttles to link a new rapid transit center to a retail district, connecting more residents to jobs. It will also use data analytics to improve healthcare access in a neighborhood that currently has a high infant-mortality rate; it will allow the city to provide improved transportation options to those who require it most for prenatal care.
Another case in point is the Danish capital of Copenhagen that has set the ambition of becoming the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. It has successfully started to apply following sustainable city solutions to face climate changes:
- Integrated transport and cycling solutions have resulted in increased mobility and reduction in congestion and improvement of the health of its citizens. Instead of driving or taking mass transit, approximately 45% of Copenhagen’s citizens bike to work or school every day, which overall is a much healthier alternative.
- A new district cooling system, where cold water is taken from the harbor water, saves 70% of the energy compared to traditional air conditioning. Seawater and an environmentally friendly natural refrigerant—ammonia—are used for the cooling system. The city’s central plant produces chilled water and distributes it through a pipeline network to customers.
- From November to April, when the seawater is cold enough, it works alone in a free cooling unit with plate heat exchangers. During the other months, the seawater acts as a cooling agent in the condensers of compressor chillers that use ammonia as a natural refrigerant. During the summer months, when demand is at its highest, the plant uses an absorption chiller that runs on waste steam from a local waste incineration plant, a process called “absorption cooling.”
- Copenhagen is developing Hans Tavsens Park, which will serve as a rainwater catchment for the neighborhood capable of capturing and storing of 18,000 cubic meters of rainwater at any given time.
- There is also a plan to regenerate the city’s Inner Nørrebro area, particularly addressing the issue of cloudbursts (sudden, heavy bouts of precipitation that can result in flooding and other issues).
Security, privacy and other concerns
Citizens of smart cities can get an added layer of protection and emergency support through connected cameras, intelligent road systems, and public safety monitoring systems as and when needed. Further, city-planners can leverage pervasive connectivity, open data, end-to-end security, and software monetization solutions to align evolving smart city needs for a much-improved experience for all partners in the ecosystem.
To defend against hacking, cyber-attacks, and data theft, smart cities need physical data vaults and strong authentication and ID management solutions.
There is an urgent need on the part of all ecosystem partners — governments, enterprises, software providers, device manufacturers, energy providers, and network service providers — to integrate solutions that abide by core security objectives.
A smart city cannot thrive without actionable, real-time, and reliable access to data. Security solutions must avoid adverse effects, so it becomes critical how information is collected, distilled, and shared.
As smart cities depend on reliable and accurate data, it needs to take measures to ensure that data is accurate and free from manipulation. It also needs to take steps to prevent unauthorized disclosure of sensitive details about consumers of the data.
Also, the interactions of users with sensitive systems should be difficult to forge and have reliable integrity protection. To ensure that data is shared only with authorized parties, strong authentication and ID management solutions need to be integrated into the ecosystem. These measures also protect backend systems from intrusion and hacking.
All participants in the ecosystem share information and combine it with contextual data that is analyzed and acted upon in real-time. Smart cities need to address privacy concerns and fear of security breaches in the process of sharing information. So, it becomes crucial for various sectors to achieve better, sustainable results through the analysis of real-time contextual, sector-specific information, shared across operational technology systems.
No doubt, the future of smart cities is very promising, but all such issues still must be addressed to provide a better scalable platform for safe and reliable network connectivity. Constraints in terms of budget, resources, and continuous software upgrades are other problems affecting the implementation of smart cities. The solution to these problems is to develop smarter technology and more efficient usage to prevent cost-overruns. The key is to develop significant technology platforms and IoT solutions without massive investment.