Smart Cities Spend Less

Paulo Santos

There are hidden costs to running a city that are hard to ignore. For example, when a traffic light stays green for two minutes without a single car passing, but in the street parallel, drivers are spending three hours a day in avoidable traffic, there is an invisible financial loss. But this economic impact gets clearer when we analyze other services cities provide to citizens.

When the weather is dry and pollution reaches dangerous levels, you find people rushing to hospital with respiratory problems, clearly indicating that, something is wrong. Another example may be the lack of a modern traffic management system, which encourages drivers (in their frustration) to drive recklessly to get to their destination, causing accidents that put unnecessary pressure on emergency services. The knock-on effect is that when a patient is taken by ambulance to an oversaturated critical care center, there is a lack of public resources due to the strain put on the institutions by poor management of the city. Similar financial consequences can be found when examining how a city with a low crime resolution rate due to poor investigations can cause the hidden problems associated with reactive public management.

Proactive and early detection with smart city systems

The logic behind a “Smart City” is a proactive management model. Smart incident management aims for a fast and automated incident detection system, which could even detect the risk of a threat before the event occurs. Detection can be done through cameras and sensors (to measure pollution and radiation, identify shootings, traffic accidents and so on), which can trigger alerts. The city becomes a live map, which generates information from several sensors.

This information can help develop a preventative strategy that reduces costs in the long term. It can also lead to decisions that optimize public resources.

The interior of a Danish ambulanceOne such example is what Denmark is doing in the Nordjylland Region. This region has 11 ambulances that cover the outskirts of cities, where even the nearest hospital can be far away. Ambulances are equipped with cameras on the ceiling that enable hospital staff to zoom in for close-up images. This allows for a more accurate assessment of a patient’s condition during transit. Hospital staff can give advice to ambulance personnel about which hospital is closest and what care is needed, so treatment can start in advance. Sometimes a case is resolved in the ambulance, allowing the patient to go home. This results in time savings for patients, and cost savings for Denmark’s national health services.

Further cost reduction within smart cities

One example of cost reduction in smart cities is through public lighting systems. To save energy, street lighting can be adjusted depending on the level of traffic, both vehicle and pedestrian. When no one passes, lights can be lowered – without compromising the quality of the surveillance thanks to low-lighting sensitive cameras.

Another example is the use of emergency buttons in heavy traffic areas. If an incident occurs, a person can press a button to immediately call an officer and communicate by audio and video to summon help or get advice on what to do. When the public administration understands the severity of incidents, it can act accordingly and avoid unnecessary deployment of resource to investigate.

A third scenario involves capturing stolen vehicles. The victim reports a theft via an app, for example, which immediately informs the police the vehicle has been stolen. In-vehicle tracking can then tell law enforcement where the vehicle is. This coupled with License Plate Recognition (LPR) technology means traffic police can identify the vehicle is stolen as it tries to escape block its path and avoid the costs of a full police investigation, ultimately lowering insurance costs.

Using LPR in a city scenario

Brazilian police officers in their car

If you think this is too farfetched for a city in a developing country, here is an interesting example: the city of Maceió, in Brazil. Cameras with LPR can identify vehicles that are breaking the law, as license plates can be crosschecked against a database of stolen vehicles. Last year, for instance, there was a kidnapping inside a mall. The victim, who was put inside the car, gave the police a description of the vehicle. When the vehicle was spotted by a camera, police followed and stopped the car with the victim unharmed, in less than an hour.

Believe it or not, in places with a high rate of vehicle and cargo theft, such as Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, even the delivery of online purchases is more expensive, to account for losses.

Enhancing citizens’ lives

At its core, a smart city can enhance its citizens’ lives. A public administration guided by prevention and resource optimization can do more with less, which is a much-needed goal, especially in developing countries.