About two hundred years ago, the vast majority of people never ventured too far from their homes. Their entire lives consisted of tending the land around their family homesteads so that they could feed their families. This pattern continued and remained largely unchanged until about 1900, when the Industrial Revolution transformed cities into places that attracted people because of factory jobs and the like.
We have loved the city life ever since. As the global population continues to grow at a steady pace, more and more people are moving to cities every single day. Experts predict that the world's urban population will double by 2050. This means under the current pace, within 40 years, 70 percent of the world's population will reside in cities. This rapid migration will push both current and future urban centers to maximize and expand infrastructures beyond their breaking points.
With such rapid urban population growth, efficient, smart cities are the need of the hour. These smart cities not only require operating hospitals, utilities and transportation systems, but also a method to ensure that each of these are being optimized. To make this happen, city officials need to constantly monitor and track real-time data and turn them into actionable insights as quickly as possible.
In the not so distant past, data was collected during physical field visits. Now, thanks to emerging technologies around Internet of Things (IoT), remote sensors can do the job for us. Today, sensory objects (cars, televisions, smartphones, smart cameras, smart gadgets, etc.) collect real-time data remotely, giving us the insights needed to help us turn our cities around.
For example, smart meters are being used to measure electrical energy usage and incentives are given to those homes that consume less energy. Some cities have placed sensors on street lights, which dim or brighten based on the number of pedestrians on the road. Environmental Condition Monitoring system is being used to monitor water and air quality, temperature, humidity, pollution, and carbon dioxide concentrations. An environmental specialist can then access this data and use it to alert people about forest fires, and even send out updates on possible storms. Building surveillance and security is routinely used to monitor and detect safety and security patterns, such as malicious human activities and even a building's structural problems, allowing the local police to raise security alerts in a timely manner. Smart cameras and motion sensors are already being deployed in buildings and shopping malls to gather real-time data and send it to the cloud. For example, metal detectors are being used to feed data into a smart cloud application to allow the detection of explosives and terroristic attacks in real time.
My favorite example is that of the smart city of Amsterdam. The city currently runs 79 projects, collaboratively developed by local residents, government agencies, and businesses. These projects run on an interconnected platform through wireless devices to enhance the city's real-time decision making abilities. The purpose of the projects is to reduce traffic, save energy, and improve public safety. Its residents created an app called Mobypark, which allows owners of parking spaces to rent them out to people for a fee. The data generated from this app is used by the city to determine parking demand and traffic flows in the city.
It's not all good news, however. Recently, we heard the terrifying news that computer hackers sitting miles away in their homes could tap into the computer system of a Jeep and shut off its engine in the middle of a speeding highway. So much for the promise that connecting everything with the IoT will solve every problem. If anything, we've opened up a Pandora's box. Security needs to be on the top of mind to ensure that we get the best out of new technologies. For that, it's important to closely monitor every development, measure risk and find solutions. Only then, our lives will become truly 'smart'!