A Contemporary Tale of Smart Cities

The term 'Smart City' is commonly used to refer to a knowledge infrastructure for a city or town. The term is synonymous with 'digital city' or 'connected city' and takes into account pervasive internet connectivity, through broadband and wifi networks, among other basic building blocks. Often deploying a large network of sensors, it draws on the Internet of Things (IoT), Realtime data, organized Data Lakes  as well as historical and archived data, both structured & unstructured,  to improve the quality of services by enabling quick analysis of current and historical data to facilitate accurate projections and aid quick decision-making both by planners, administrators as well as individuals. The overarching objectives, almost in all cases, are to support better living, create more opportunities, support stronger and more cohesive communities and improve the quality of life overall for all residents.

A number of use cases, detailed below, would help to explain both the concepts and the implementation parameters, better. 

Case Study 1: Milton Keynes, England

Milton Keynes has attracted significant investment from large national and international businesses, leading to rapid and significant growth. This rapid growth in turn has brought forth new challenges, with the population of the town expected to touch 0.3 million in less than a decade. Delays in delivery of public services are being anticipated and to counter such anticipated problems, smart and connected data driven technology is being planned to ease the burden on services, improve the quality of life and reduce the damage caused to the environment by rapid urbanization.

As part of the process, the town administrators have installed a lot of sensors in parks to measure parameters like footfalls, water temperature and soil moisture, in car parking spaces and even in recycling bins to know when they are full. This in turn helps in the routing of wagons, so that they can get to the bins which need clearing timely and bypass those which are nowhere near full. 

They are also using high-definition satellite imagery and overlaying it with data from the town planning department to monitor and ensure that the town is growing correctly, in line with planning guidelines and local growth plans.

Homes are being used to test a variety of energy-saving technology and a number of families are participating in a limited-period trial for the use electric cars. Driverless cars are also being tested.

The data generated by these projects, as well as other data collected by the council during its regular activities, will be collated as part of another project. This will be a data hub which will also take in data from local and national open sources, infrastructure networks such as energy, public transport and water, satellite imagery and social media. All this data will be sliced, diced and dissected, using analytics tools, to gain new foresights and implement them timely and efficiently.

Case Study 2: Tianjin Eco-City, China

Tianjin Eco-City is not just another modern, planned, residential development like several others which have been coming up in China. Built on a piece of land about one-half the size of Manhattan, it is one of China's first attempts at sustainable urban development. Being built to house a population of 350,000 by the year 2020, the Eco-City is a huge improvement on the one square-mile of wastewater reservoir, containing mercury and DDT, that used to be the area before. Following years of heavy pollution by industry, it had lost all its ecological functions and had to be restored at a cost of $163 million (one billion yuan).

Strolling along Tianjin's pavements, one would notice that they are laid with pervious sand bricks to facilitate efficient drainage. Rainwater and wastewater are collected separately and 18 submersible axial flow pumps, capable of pumping 42 cubic metres of water per second, divert the rainwater to artificial wetlands.

One may also notice that the trash cans lining the pavements are covered with solar photovoltaic panels, so that they can light up at night, that free electric buses whizz along at regular intervals, connecting the different districts and that the drainage wells for storm water are embedded in the curbs. 

Located on the eastern border of Tianjin, a manufacturing city of nearly 15 million people, the goals set for the Eco-City include zero net loss of natural wetlands, a recycling rate of at least 60 percent and a minimum of 12 square meters of public green space per capita. Six years after ground breaking, planners say they have mostly achieved these, though at this time there are 'temporary deviations' like ambient air quality which still need to be brought in line. Using necessary investments in infrastructure and technology, efficient planning and monitoring and the full backing of the central government, town planners are striving to meet all the goals laid out for this ambitious project. 

Case Study 3: Smart Nation, Singapore

Topping global league tables is nothing new to Singapore. For several years now, the country has consistently topped the rankings for the ease of doing business.  Ookla rates it among the fastest broadband nations globally and Tufts University views it as one of the fastest changing digital economies in the world. The 'Smart Nation' initiative is a new journey for Singapore and, in this endeavour, the city-state is putting together the building blocks of infrastructure, policies, ecosystem and capabilities to enable a 'Smart Nation'. At the same time, it is encouraging a culture of experimentation and working both with organizations and citizens to cooperatively create solutions. 

The masterplan involves pulling together its world-ranked universities, healthcare institutions, R&D investments, the rapidly growing community of tech. start-ups and also large pools of investment capital. It also envisages both the government and the private sector using technology holistically to bring about a better quality of life and greater business opportunities. 

Some of the challenges Singapore faces are urban density, a rapidly ageing population and energy sustainability. It is currently the world's third most densely populated nation, with 8000 people per square kilometre, a nation where every 1 out of 5 residents will be elderly citizens ( age 60 and greater) by 2030 and also a state which  has experienced a rapid growth of 33% in power consumption over the last decade. 

A vision which is expected to reach full fruition in a decade, some of the current initiatives include: 

Smart Healthcare: Trials to enable preventative and out-of-hospital healthcare are on. Several public hospitals are trialling a tele-health rehabilitation system where data is transmitted via sensors attached to patients' limbs as they carry out therapy sessions in the comfort of their homes. This both eliminates the need for patients to travel and wait for their appointments in hospitals and also frees up the pool of therapists to provide greater care to a larger number of patients.
Trials are also on for the use of smart devices and applications in Singapore's public housing apartments to enable elderly residents to age safely and with greater independence. Monitoring sensors and alert systems will inform loved ones and neighbours when an individual is in need.

Smart Mobility: Residents are being provided with greater real-time transport information so that they can better plan their journeys and uncover the most optimum travel option at any time. Bus availability and bus loading informations are available through apps and the entire transport data set is also available to developers and to the public. 
The various possibilities of how best autonomous vehicles can be deployed are being explored and a six kilometre test-route stretch has been made available to parties interested in conducting various trials for autonomous vehicles. 

Smart Living: Smart technologies are being used in public housing estates to enable the development of smart townships across four key dimensions; smart planning, smart environment, smart estate and smart living. Greater details about each of these dimensions can be perused by taking the jump to this link.

The Internet of Things, Pervasive broadband and wifi connectivity together with Big Data and Predictive Analytics on a host of datasets and data lakes, structured and unstructured, will form the foundation blocks of smart cities, many of which are expected to spring up across metropolises as well as newly built cities, globally.