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Insights from the leadership at HB on technology and culture

IoT and Smart Cities

on September 06, 2016

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a relatively new concept in the technological world. However, it has already been heralded as an idea that could revolutionize modern life. IoT has taken root in people’s homes, on their commutes, and in businesses’ warehouses and offices. Now it is expanding to encompass entire cities. 

The concept is relatively simple, but it has extremely complex potential applications. IoT represents all of the interconnected devices that surround us every day. More and more gadgets and machines that incorporate any level of technology are being equipped with devices that allow them to communicate wirelessly with each other, giving rise to a vast web of information sharing. In our homes, for example, we rely on smart environmental, entertainment, and security systems in addition to technological automation and ease-of-living solutions that are part of IoT. 

One way businesses utilize this innovation is by tagging products so they can be tracked in transport, pulled off the shelves, or sorted by fully automated warehouse machines. IoT is being taken to a whole new level in smart cities, however. Imagine a municipal infrastructure that can communicate with itself across all of its functions. The possible improvements extend to all parts of city management: maintenance, waste processing, traffic control, emergency response, energy usage, water conservation, environmental monitoring, and more. 

Capitalize on the Growth and Use of IoT 

One of the reasons IoT is now being used to build on the concept of smart cities is the massive number of devices that are connected to the internet. A study published in December of 2015 indicated that an estimated 1.6 billion devices will be part of the IoT by the end of this year. By 2018, this number is expected to reach 3.3 billion. Of special note is that the majority of devices connected to IoT are located in commercial buildings. In 2016, these buildings are expected to have 518 million connected devices—and over 1 billion devices by 2018.

Commercial facilities—such as office parks, industrial areas, shopping malls, and airports—have already begun reaping the benefits of using IoT to make their systems “smart.” Such facilities save money by regulating heating and cooling systems, monitoring energy flow, and more. They can also gather information on the way the facility is used, allowing businesses to optimize building layouts and functionality. 

Emulate Business IoT to Make City-Wide Optimizations

Imagine smart cities with smart buildings as a model, but on a much larger scale. Advances in technology and data collection—what drives IoT—are embedded in the infrastructures of smart cities, creating more sustainable practices. Therefore, they’ll be less of a drain on limited resources.

Consider New York’s smart traffic sensors. They make life easier for thousands of commuters by decreasing traffic jams. Once cars are connected through IoT, however, life behind the wheel will be transformed in a number of ways—traffic jams, for example, may become a thing of the past. The marriage of IoT and a smart city can optimize transportation issues, diminishing our carbon footprint by avoiding something no one wants to do anyway: sit in traffic.

For another example, look at London’s IoT initiatives. In addition to a network of CCTVs (surveillance cameras), many police officers now wear body cameras pinned to their uniforms that wirelessly record footage of any encounters. This footage can be seamlessly transmitted to a courtroom or a laptop. Though currently still a discussion for most U.S. governances, this kind of technology will likely soon be the norm—an easy way to protect both police and citizens.

Another innovative use of technology is taking place in Santa Cruz, CA. Labeled initially as an experiment, the city continues to find success with its crime prevention software, using predictive analytics related to crime to create a safer city. Though still a long way from the predictions of Phil K. Dick in his short story “Minority Report,” these algorithms may be a game changer for cities that have struggled to keep crime rates low.

Most states suggest that they are six to 10 years away from adopting smart technology, but small steps will lead to bigger changes. Like businesses that see costs decrease and bottom line profits increase by implementing smart technology, cities will soon find they can’t afford not to begin a strategic adoption of the latest IoT technologies. Safer cities, less environmental impact, and increased savings are all on the horizon. Of course, what we’re seeing today is still early stages for IoT, and smart cities are in their infancy. We may have imagined flying cars, but now that seems limiting. Who needs a car that can fly when you’re the only one on the road?


photo credit: Abu Dhabi #1 via photopin (license)