Are smart cities a smart idea?

By the year 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.

05 August 2019


By Mariusz Bogacki, Researcher and Science Communicator, Edinburgh

By the year 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. Such transformation comes with challenges related not only to housing provisions, energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions, but also, on how to manage resources, transportation, safety and the well-being of its inhabitants. While some of these challenges are not new, utilising the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) – an extension of Internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects – offers an abundance of technological solutions.

Here are some examples of already emerging smart cities and the futuristic solutions they implement.

Big data, better efficiency?
Seoul (South Korea) has one of the most technologically advanced metro systems in the world. Sophisticated technology is used to go beyond simply running trains on time in order to run them at the right time. ‘Smart cameras’ count the amount of people at each station and record how quickly they board the carriages, while trains’ sensors measure every tiny component, analysing potential maintenance issues. All of this information is gathered at the central office and analysed in real time, allowing the system to recognize, and even predict, which areas of the city require more human and technological resources at any given time, and reacting, for example, by constantly adjusting the speed and frequency of the trains.

Arab Robocops
In order to realize its ‘Happiness Agenda’, the City of Dubai (United Arab Emirates) is planning to automate 25% of its transport systems by 2030 and robotise urban public services. Apart from utilizing modern technology in transportation and surveillance, the city is also testing integrating robots into its police force. The first Arab Robocops will be deployed in shopping malls and tourist attractions. They will be able to feed videos to a command centre, forward reported crimes to the police, settle fines, recognize faces, and speak nine languages. The city hopes to expand this techno-force to its police stations in the near future.

Are you ready for the next CityOS upgrade?
As part of it citywide technological advancement strategy – ‘CityOS’ – Barcelona (Spain), is implementing a ‘smart traffic lights system’. Utilizing data collected from IoT devices spread across the city, this smart traffic lights management not only reduces traffic congestion and therefore queuing and energy consumption, but is also able to prioritize certain vehicles. In practice, this means that the system will allow emergency services, such as fire trucks and ambulances, to be given faster green lights.

Whether these futuristic smart cities really are a smart idea remains to be seen. Apart from technological challenges, there are also ethical considerations – How do you ensure a machine takes responsibility for its actions? However with the right type of engineering – keeping human safety at its core – we may find the right solutions to the present challenges of the ever-accelerating urbanisation.