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Smart cities: Enticing visions of super-clean, safe and high-tech cities of the future

Smart cities promise enormous improvements in the quality of life and huge efficiencies in the way large, metropolitan areas are run. 

Technologies are being developed and implemented now that can help monitor and manage almost everything in a smart city, from waste and energy, to traffic and crime.

But, according to a McKinsey report, we are still currently “seeing only a preview” of what technology could eventually do in the urban environment. 

In the future, and that’s as near-future as city leaders can make it, residents of and visitors to a smart city could all access all key local information – about traffic, health, safety, and so on – on their smartphones instantly.

And that’s the key – collecting vast amounts of data about how the city is operating and putting in the hands of people who need to know.

There are so many things that technology can do nowadays that saves time and money. Here are some examples some people may already be familiar with:

  • Sensors in bins which notify of the need for collection could save make waste management services more efficient.
  • Smart traffic lights could keep traffic moving instead of arbitrarily changing regardless of whether there are any vehicles around or not.
  • Street lights which can dim or switch off when they’re not required and brighten when they are.
  • Real-time and geo-spatially accurate information about car parking availability can be provided to motorists.
  • Far greater citywide internet connectivity for high-bandwidth applications through 5G networks.
  • Advanced video analytics for automated image processing from the many cameras that monitor city streets.
  • Better energy distribution systems and smart meters to make buildings more efficient.
  • Cheaper and more pervasive air quality monitoring systems.

McKinsey looked at 50 “smart cities” that have implemented smart city solutions and found that New York and San Francisco are among the most advanced in the US, and Moscow and London are ahead in Europe, while Seoul and Singapore are regarded as the most progressive in the Asia-Pacific region.

This is based on the number of smart city applications that they have implemented.

Most of the smart city applications – and most applications in general worldwide in every sector – depend on computer chips, or sensors and microprocessors.

While sensors tend to have specific functions, the vast majority of processors are manufactured nowadays to be application-agnostic, if there is such a term. Meaning, they can be used for almost any application – they just crunch the numbers.

But, increasingly, chips are being made for specific applications. Application-specific integrated circuits, or ASICs, are already an established part of the processor landscape.

However, that type of specialization is being applied to new processors to make them more capable of dealing with vast amounts of data that smart cities can generate, and the artificial intelligence that will inevitably be used to make sense of that data and turn it into information that people can use.

Because, after all, no matter how technologically advanced the smart city, the people need to be the center of everything.

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