How smart cities can help build a sustainable world

smart city world

By Haider Iqbal, director of IoT, Public Services & Transport, at Gemalto.

An occasional series of vendor perspectives on the world of connected business – because it’s all about making new connections and starting new conversations.
Sustainability is a powerful force for positive change in our world; one that is driving transformation, innovation, and improvement across all aspects of society.

No longer limited to conserving natural resources, sustainability now encompasses a broad range of challenges, including urban growth, transportation, our carbon footprints, and even people’s work-life balance.

As the world’s population is expected to increase by an estimated 33 percent before 2050, and with nearly 70 percent of those people living in urban environments, sustainability has become a focal point for forward-thinking cities.

Together, the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart city technologies are one of the keys to success in this field. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020, half of all smart city objectives will be focused on climate change, resilience, and sustainability.

With an expected growth rate of more than 19 percent every year, the global smart cities market is predicted to reach $3.6 trillion by 2025, up from $773 billion in 2016.

Innovative businesses and municipalities see the potential, and are working together on programmes that illuminate just what smart cities can do to meet global sustainability goals.

Using smart city infrastructure to our advantage
Smart cities are built on complex and intelligent frameworks of ubiquitous digital networks, connecting citizens, governments, and objects that simultaneously send and receive data. Cloud-based software applications receive, manage, and analyse this data, and transform it into real-time intelligence that, ultimately, will help improve the way we work, travel and live.

In a smart city for instance, intelligent garbage solutions are redefining and optimising waste management. The World Bank estimates that the global cost of managing our landfill collections alone will rise to $375 billion by 2025 – an unsustainable cost in the long term.

Smart garbage bins, self-powered with solar technology, have the ability to communicate when they are full in real time, preventing overflows and eliminating unnecessary scheduled pick-ups that will save time, fuel, and wear and tear on the roads.

BigBelly is one such company transforming the way we approach waste collection. With successful pilot schemes around the world, from Singapore to New York City to Melbourne, it is working to reduce the frequency of collections by 70-80 percent and limit our dependence on rubbish bins.

For example, in Dún Laoghaire, a small portside town outside Dublin, BigBelly helps to manage the waste left behind by tourists and provide a real-time solution to the waste-collection issues posed by Ireland’s unpredictable weather. The result has been an annual saving of €200,000 in costs and 69 tons of CO2.

Providing the complete city experience
However, the IoT’s sustainability reach extends far beyond smart city waste management. Take Quayside in Toronto, for instance, a 12-acre site that Google’s Sidewalk Labs has covered in IoT sensors to monitor and optimise processes all over the city.

Using the embedded sensors, city managers can monitor traffic flows, noise levels, air quality, energy usage, and travel patterns in real time. These insights allow businesses, citizens and the government to review and make changes swiftly to improve city services and amenities.

The installation has been designed to tackle the challenges of urban growth and achieve new standards of sustainability.

Similarly, Belmont, an initiative associated with Bill Gates, was envisaged as a sustainable, technologically advanced community built from the ground up in the Arizona desert. This new city is at the forefront of the sustainability movement and is based on a communication and infrastructure foundation that encompasses cutting-edge technology, high-speed digital networks, data centres, and autonomous vehicles to optimise how we live our lives.

Taking it to the next level
While these projects might appear piecemeal or isolated, it’s not difficult to imagine a future in which every town and city has similar IoT sensors embedded in its infrastructure in order to reduce citizens’ environmental footprints and improve the way we live.

But like any growing market, scalability is always an issue. In order to expand these projects to have an impact at city, national, or even global level, governments and businesses alike need to overcome significant barriers to success.

In China for example, the government plans to build 100 new smart cities from by 2020, focusing on innovation and information-intensive infrastructure. But lack of investment in infrastructure or trust in security are often cited as holding bold initiatives like this back. This is often because decision-makers are not given substantial promises on ROI.

The way to tackle this problem is to prove that there is real demand from citizens for sustainability projects. With engaged citizens, governments and businesses alike can make more informed decisions about investing in technology that the public both wants and will use.

Barcelona, for instance, has a longstanding reputation as a metropolis at the forefront of technological innovation and has recently reviewed its smart city agenda to make sure it keeps its citizens at the heart of its strategy. After all, smart bins or intelligent lighting are only beneficial if people actually use them.

We are already seeing real examples of success at city level. Copenhagen’s meteoric rise to become the world’s leading smart city can be traced back to its sustainability profile and smart city ecosystem. Elsewhere, San Diego’s smart city movement has revolutionised the city’s approach to climate change, sustainability, and green innovation with intelligent street lights and solar-powered charging stations.

It’s all about trust
But while infrastructure provides the smart city capabilities, open data – and more importantly, trust in its use and security –underpins the future of a sustainable city.

Historically, governments, enterprises, and individuals have all held their data close, sharing as little of it as possible. In the past, privacy concerns and fear of security breaches far outweighed the value of sharing information.

People can’t be blamed for that lack of trust. With security threats such as WannaCry or NotPetya sending shockwaves around the world, it’s understandable that the idea of openly sharing data is not always quickly adopted.

This resistance can only be overcome when citizens trust the city and the people put in charge of protecting their data. This is why every government and business must buy into models that are built with data security and citizen benefit at their foundations.

Initiatives such as the UK’s Open Data Institute go some way towards establishing a trustworthy data ecosystem, but we must go further. Secure solutions, ranging from data anonymisation to digital identities, smart encryption, and cognitive threat detection, will be crucial in making citizens feel more comfortable about sharing their data.

If they remain reluctant, smart city initiatives will fail, slowing our progress towards a more sustainable world.

We are all rapidly reshaping our planet and our global culture is embracing sustainability for a viable future. Today’s innovations, such as those demonstrated by BigBelly or Quayside, are but a glimpse of the immense potential that smart city technologies hold to meet the collective desire for a sustainable world.

But the only way we can maximise the potential of smart cities to deliver on this is with the combined trust of citizens, businesses, and governments. Without it, we risk patchy and underwhelming deployments.

Source: Gemalto

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