New York City is fondly called the "city that never sleeps," and Paris is called the "city of light," but what city on earth is the "smartest"?
Let's look at what defines a smart city, existing projects, and how embedded technology changes how cities function and shape society.
The term "smart city" is vague and creates confusion. Not to mention, it seems anyone you ask has a different definition of what it means. So, who is right? According to the European Commission, a "smart city" is:
"A smart city is a place where traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital solutions for the benefit of its inhabitants and business. A smart city goes beyond the use of digital technologies for better resource use and less emissions. It means smarter urban transport networks, upgraded water supply and waste disposal facilities and more efficient ways to light and heat buildings. It also means a more interactive and responsive city administration, safer public spaces and meeting the needs of an ageing population."¹
More or less, a smart city is a city that uses technology to solve city problems and provide better services, thereby improving city life for all.
Although definitions of what a "smart" city is can vary greatly, there are a few elements that popular consensus states they must have:
It may seem a little confusing at first. But when we understand what is required for a city to be considered "smart," we can better understand what cities can do to modernize and digitally transform their landscape. As technology improves and costs for AI platforms and IoT sensors are reduced, the cities of the future will inevitably qualify as what we today call a "smart city." There are already a few examples we can turn to, including the world's "smartest" city.
Today, one city stands out as a pioneer in establishing smart city initiatives, Singapore. Locally known as the “Lion City” or “Garden City," depending on who you ask, Singapore has taken the reins in digitally transforming its cityscape on numerous levels.
"Singapore emerged top in the 2017 Global Smart City Performance Index by Juniper Research and Intel. The ranking is based on the integration of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and connected services, and which the nation came out tops in all four of the key areas measured—mobility, healthcare, public safety, and productivity"²
Singapore has pioneered the concept of a "smart city" by tackling a few key pieces of technology, public health, transportation, and citizen engagement. The most prevalent of these are:
Singapore is a geographically small area with many inhabitants (nearly 6 million). A small portion of that available land gets used for city-wide transportation like roadways and metro services. Singapore has teamed up with technology partners to create an autonomous fleet to aid disabled and elderly city residents get around and do things like shop for groceries or go to the doctor. An autonomous fleet is also used to shuttle students around the National University of Singapore campus, the first of its kind.
But the city has done more than utilize autonomous vehicles. Sensors have been installed in over 5,000 buses and other vehicles to optimize transportation movement. The city's road tolling and pricing system uses real-time traffic data analytics from these sensors to change toll pricing and manage traffic volumes to ease congestion. Using embedded AI machine learning within these systems allows the city's transportation fabric to be malleable and shift to its varying needs at any given moment.
Singapore has an aging population, with some 40% of city inhabitants at the retirement age of 65 or older. To prevent overcrowding at medical facilities and medical staff from being overworked, the entire healthcare system in Singapore was digitized in what is known as an "e-health initiative." This has been done in a few key ways.
An online portal, HealthHub, was developed, allowing patients to manage digital healthcare more efficiently. Citizens benefit from the HealthHub platform by checking in with doctors, scheduling appointments, and renewing prescriptions. Telemedicine (now standard worldwide) was first employed widely in Singapore to allow patients to see doctors without going to a medical facility. Ultimately, this streamlined healthcare access for many, especially the elderly.
TeleRehab enables patients to do physical therapy and other exercises at home, wearing IoT devices for progress and vital sign monitoring. AI is also used as a chatbot to speak with patients and the elderly and provide information on community activities so that they can stay socially and mentally healthy.
The Singapore population, particularly the elderly, has adopted smartphones at some of the highest rates on earth. The government used this knowledge to develop the "Smart Nation App, " a one-stop platform for citizens to access important information and government services. Some ways the population uses this app are:
The Smart Nation App has proved to be a success based on the level of adoption by Singaporean citizens and the improved efficiency of traditionally slow government services. From a governmental point of view, smart city adoption has streamlined its procedures and reduced operational expenses. From a civilian point of view, it has made government services more easily accessible.
Singapore is a pioneer regarding what a "smart city" should look like, and this hasn't even covered the energy efficiency and embedded "smart" building construction requirements for most new construction projects.
Governments are approaching digital transformation in different ways. In developing nations, there is an incentive to build cities that meet modern technology standards to enhance daily life and bring in foreign investment. In developed countries, there is a push to improve existing infrastructure systems and evolve into a "smart city." In Singapore's case, the government provided funding to start the initiative from the beginning:
"The Smart Nation was an initiative launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 24 November 2014. In financial year 2017, the government had set aside $2.4 billion to support the initiative, which involves the government purchasing services from technology startups rather than offering grants to support them."³
Governments across the globe are following suit in places like the United States, India, Brazil, and others. The point is that governments have a lot to do and know they must partner with private technology companies to promote advancement in the smart city field. Nowhere was this example more evident than in Singapore, where government investment, partnerships with technology companies, and transparency with the public all came together to produce the world's "smartest city."
Installing sensors with embedded technology throughout a city and getting them to communicate with one another securely and quickly takes a lot of planning and forethought. Many cities are beginning to enhance various aspects of city life and infrastructure with embedded systems and AI, but the barrier to entry is high. For starters, there is a lack of qualified expertise in using embedded networks and artificial intelligence. Then there is the lack of budget approval for overhauling long-established city systems like garbage collection and disposal. Not to mention convincing the local populace to buy into the new "smart city" services when privacy is a concern.
A truly smart city must operate as an extensive human-computer interconnectivity system. Smart cities must "know" themselves through embedded sensors and AI analytics and have a "voice" to communicate with inhabitants, government agencies, emergency personnel, transportation crews, and other participants in day-to-day city life. The Internet of Everything's EDEN takes a complete 360-degree approach when planning intelligent city architecture and design.
Safety isn't overlooked when it comes to EDEN installation & operation, as it is a decentralized system. Using blockchain technology with no central point of attack, polymorphic encrypted keys, quantum-safe tunneling, and edge computing (a distributed computing platform that functions locally), security and efficiency are critical elements in the operation of the Eden ecosystem.
Using decentralization enhances more than security, as the decentralized edge architecture is hugely beneficial in the installation and scaling process necessary in a smart city containing thousands of connected parts. If your platform cannot scale to encompass multiple interconnected city systems, it is a non-starter.
Energy efficiency has always been important. Never more so than the past calendar year due to soaring energy costs caused by a less stable geo-political climate. Therefore, sustainable computing AI that works at the edge is a must to reduce energy consumption when planning and managing a smart city platform.
Suppose a traditional cloud or server farm gets used. In that case, there is not only a central point of attack but huge energy requirements as the data must travel great distances to be analyzed and then sent back to the source to apply the necessary outcomes and decisions. Traditional cloud furthermore eliminates accurate "real-time" data as latency is associated with data transmission costs across the cloud infrastructure.
Changing city landscapes takes time. Let's tackle this challenge head-on and build a world for tomorrow. EDEN is open for partnership applications. Please fill out the form, and your IoE Planet Partner concierge will reach out soon.