Five key trends for a smarter city

Andrea Sorri

Cities are becoming more complex and new challenges arise every day. Amidst these changes, factors such as public safety, urban mobility and environmental monitoring still remain priorities. Advanced connectivity and Internet of Things (IoT) technology supports cities in the mission to utilize their resources more efficiently and improve the management and control of urban areas. As cities evolve and new technology comes onto the market, how will this impact today’s cities and what trends will be emerging?

1. Data protection goes hand in hand with data collection

Data is at the heart of every smart city framework and it enables planning and optimization of existing infrastructure. As cities become smarter, the information generated will need to be analyzed, processed and actioned. This ranges from data on traffic flow and geolocations to energy consumption. But due to the nature of some of this information, data protection must accompany data collection to protect citizens’ privacy.

City officials will be tasked with ensuring data is used responsibly in exchange for the insights they receive through analysis. This will become increasingly important, especially when considering the rapid development of technology in smart cities. Today we see sensors, surveillance cameras with video analytics, which are collectively gathering sensitive data to help understand the needs of the citizens better.

As a result, it’s crucial to adopt new data security legislations, where the focus will be on ownership, handling processing, use and protection of data. Approaches such as ‘anonymity by design’, where identities are protected, could be the next step.

2. Cybersecurity remains high on the agenda

Despite the adoption of new technology to improve efficiencies, we mustn’t forget that a smart city isn’t automatically a secure city. The use of connected technology within cities (and their networks) will also increase the cyberattack surface area. This security risk has also grown. Firstly, because data is being generated by more scattered sources in various locations. Secondly, there’s been an increasing number of people who work for city authorities and senior level executives – such as CIOs, and CDOs – who have shifted to working remotely, where the security level might not be as high.

Sophisticated and coordinated cyberattacks against cities have demonstrated the potential impact on infrastructure, revealing an issue many cities authorities face: a lack of a comprehensive action plan. In the event of a successful cyberattack, the damage to essential data hubs or vital sectors such as healthcare and critical infrastructure can be extensive, resulting in catastrophic effects.

The mitigation of such threats will be at the top of the agenda for the CIOs and CDOs of city authorities moving forward. Be that through highlighting the shared security responsibility of every stakeholder in the network, updated policies or efficient device management. Education about the latest cyber threats provides a solid foundation and a shared approach ensures that every organization within the smart city ecosystem can implement the right defense and best practice.

3. Edge processing makes cities smarter

Regarding the growing digitalization in cities, the need to store and analyze collected data on the edge – where sensors, cameras and other IoT devices are located – is gaining momentum. Advanced features, like AI or deep learning/analytics can be implemented at the edge to benefit different sectors, such as traffic management. Here, software can not only help to monitor the vehicle flow, but also to detect hazardous weather conditions to predict risks and mitigate difficult situations for various road users.

Plus, moving processing power to the edge provides advantages outside the analytic capabilities; such as lower bandwidth consumption, better reliability and reduced latency of the system, which is important for real-time analysis. Ultimately, the use of edge processing will help to integrate more sensors and data to make city systems more interoperable.

4. Urban mobility becomes agile

Maintaining the flow of traffic around a city remains a challenge, especially as the number and types of vehicles change and increase (e.g. a shift towards e-scooters or shared and electric cars). Additionally, new solutions which address congestion are emerging. These include parking management solutions and public transport optimization. This can go even a step further with features like people counters within public transport, which could optimize bus stops and, monitor the citizens’ experience.

On the pedestrian side, there are pilot projects like smart sidewalks, which would gather data from individuals (for example, joggers, wheelchair users and cyclists), to help inform future planning. Much of this is driven by residents’ needs. The demand for bicycle lanes and pedestrian-friendly areas is fueling a trend towards car-free city centers and fee-based zones which will affect urban planning in the long-term.

Paris, for example, is an advocate for the ‘15-minute-city’ model. According to this, citizens shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes to reach essential services from their home. To make this successful, careful planning and coordination is needed and technology is well positioned to help. The creation of so-called ‘digital twins’ can allow for new models to be tested on virtual duplicates of a city. This would allow city officials to predict of various outcomes and identify potential issues before changes are implemented.

Naturally, the pandemic has changed the cities’ traffic flow with fewer people being outside or on the roads. But it has also highlighted the importance of urban mobility data as they can provide essential real-time insights to handle quickly arising situations like this and help restructuring where necessary.

5. Sustainability takes center stage

The reality of climate change has become undeniable. Extreme weather conditions, rising water levels and decreasing air quality are placing cities under strain. In response, many cities have pledged to work towards the goal of becoming greener. Advanced technology which utilizes sensors and cameras, is being used to monitor and optimize energy use, as well as water and waste management.

It’s critical that every aspect of the smart city ecosystem – from the supply chain to devices used – is sustainable, starting with more local sourcing processes, streamlining transportation routes and the use of sustainable materials. Goals, such as reducing carbon emissions are driving the shift towards ‘Green IoT’ as a key approach for companies and cities. ‘Green IoT’ describes the number of ways that IoT can reduce the carbon footprint caused by existing applications and features (e.g. by making them more energy efficient), as well as making IoT devices more sustainable in their production.

Solutions fit for the future

Cities will continue to adopt different technologies to improve efficiencies, protect and align with residents’ needs and best interests. As new trends emerge, cities will need to take an agile approach to addressing different problems that arise. Scalable and flexible solutions, based on open architecture, allow city authorities to add capabilities to existing systems, in line with changing objectives and demands. By taking an approach which prioritizes this type of agility, smart cities will be better positioned to cope with future demands and threats, regardless of how and when they arise.

Read more about how Axis can support you to meet these smart city trends.

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