Smart City

6 ways cities will become smarter in 2017

The world is becoming more urban every year, and cities are becoming more technologically advanced to handle the population growth. Experts share what you can expect to see next in smart cities.

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Image: iStock/zhudifeng

More cities are adding smart city features so that Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and other connected technologies can improve the lives of citizens and visitors. As everyone knows, technology moves fast and finding out what's in store next is crucial to stay in the game.

The concept of a smart city has been around for more than a decade, but it was only recently that the phrase "smart city" became part of the modern lexicon. The trend toward adding smart city technology began in Europe, with Barcelona, Spain one of the earliest adopters. Dubai, Singapore, Hamburg, and Copenhagen quickly followed suit. In the US, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Seattle, and Denver are among those that added intelligent tech early on, and now there are cities around the globe adding new tech to streamline everything from traffic, parking, and streetlights, to public utilities, safety, and city services.

There are several major themes expected to take precedence in 2017. TechRepublic talked to smart city experts to get their opinions on what's likely to happen in the next 12 months as the chasm is crossed from early adopters to early mainstream in the US.

SEE: Smart Cities: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

1. Cities will eliminate silos within government departments

More cities are seeking an integrated, cross-cutting approach to develop technology and share information. "They realize the cost and danger of doing smart city projects piecemeal on a department-by-department basis. They want to share infrastructure, share costs, and share data between departments. As part of an integrated approach, cities will be seeking multi-purpose platforms instead of single-purpose, custom applications. They wish to have hardware, software, and tools that can be used by multiple departments," said Jesse Berst, chairman of the Smart Cities Council.

This is happening with varied departments such as the police, street maintenance, and IT, depending on the city and the needs of citizens. When one IoT sensor sends information to a department, the data is only valuable if the right person sees it. Finding out through a sensor that there is a gunshot on a city street means that the city services department that monitors the sensors on the streetlight must be able to relay that information to a 911 operator.

"This only makes sense when you consider that IoT normally sits at the cross section between operational technology and information technology. That gunshot detection system mounted in the streetlights needs strategic, operational, and financial consideration from multiple parties," said Don DeLoach, president and CEO of Infobright and part of the Illinois Technology Association's IoT Council.

2. Going to the cloud

Berst said that more cities will be seriously considering cloud option and X-as-a-Service, including Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and Infrastructure-as-a-Service, but procurement regulations are holding them back.

"Next year, many cities will begin to address the policy changes needed to be able to move to the cloud," Berst said.

In the state of Illinois, on October 1, the need for individual cities to file a Request for Proposal (RFP) for tech was eliminated with the creation of a statewide RFP for each type of tech, as previously reported in TechRepublic.

3. Collaboration among cities and private industry

Not only will silos be eliminated within city departments, but cities will work with other municipalities to share information and technology.

"As IoT becomes mainstream, we are moving from a time when cities who were putting money on IoT initiatives were the "leaders" in advancing smart cities, to a time where the cities not investing in smart city solutions are the ones being left behind. As this happens, we are seeing more and more collaboration amongst cities, where a lesson learned in Rio may have an impact on an upcoming project in Atlanta. We should see this increase in 2017," DeLoach said.

Collaboration between cities and private industry is picking up as well, as cities and companies recognize there are opportunities to come together where everyone benefits, he said.

"This may be with the mapping of underground services in Chicago or the LINK kiosks in New York, but there is more and more government to commercial company collaboration going on in smart cities, and 2017 will only see that increase," DeLoach said.

4. Machine-to-machine learning will grow

Get ready for the city of the future. "The power and capabilities of machine learning will grow exponentially. We won't be the Jetson's in 2017, but the pace of the impact will not slow down," said Mark Kamlet, professor of economics and public policy for Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University.

"In fact, it will be just the opposite. No one thought machine learning would beat the world's top players in the game of 'Go' for decades, or during our lifetimes, or maybe never," Kamlet said.

"As cities continue to innovate in the big data realm, machine learning applications are increasing and converging with the IoT. Machine learning will, for example, help to intelligently mine IoT data to drive better informed planning decisions for cities, municipalities, utilities, and community citizens. Machine learning will also be key to enabling more adaptive, resilient systems," said Jennifer James, director of Smart City Solutions for Black & Veatch.

5. Leveraging data to become more efficient

In 2017, smart cities will leverage data to improve civic services, said Arie Barendrecht, CEO and co-founder of WiredScore.

"From crime detection software to programs that identify inefficiencies in parking, cities are increasingly using data to become more efficient. Office buildings are also paving the way in using data to make cities smarter. For instance, the Hudson Yards development in New York City employs a range of sensors that collect information on people's behaviors, adjusting services based on those inputs. This includes altering energy usage in specific sections of buildings depending on occupancy. Yet, the trend I expect to see in 2017 that will have the biggest impact is cities increasingly making all of their data available to the general public. In doing so, they will give entrepreneurs the information they need to develop the next round of smart city technologies. The possibilities for groundbreaking innovation are endless," Barendrecht said.

6. Making room for connected and autonomous vehicles

Talk is buzzing about connected vehicles and autonomous cars. Some cities are interested in creating technology to support self-driving cars, such as with Pittsburgh's partnership with Uber for a self-driving pilot and the $10.9 million in funding it's received from the US Department of Transportation to fund smart traffic lights. But what does this all really mean?

"Smart cars are on the horizon. But, in order for autonomous vehicles to flourish, they must at least be able to trust the integrity of the infrastructure, and at best work with those surrounding structures as part of an interconnected technological web. Uber may be ready to roll out the car of the future, but according to everything we know about Pittsburgh's infrastructure, the streets cannot support them. In fact, 60 Minutes claimed in 2014 that Pittsburgh 'may have the most serious problem in the country' when it comes to outdated and crumbling bridges and roads. And Pittsburgh is not alone: According to the National League of Cities, only 6% of the country's most populous cities have accounted for these types of vehicles in their long-term plans. Connected cars are only the beginning of a nation-wide transformation of our cities, and there is a lot of work to do in 2017," said Kurt Steward, vice president of the public sector at Infor.

It's truly a race toward automated vehicles, at least among some cities.

"It's being led by fierce competition among the Bay Area's big three transportation companies: Tesla, Uber, and Google. Tesla is expanding its Fremont factory to increase vehicle production up to 500,000 cars a year. Tesla is also providing regular updates to their "Autopilot" automated vehicle capabilities as a software upgrade for Tesla vehicle owners. Uber is continuing its move toward having an automated, on-demand vehicle service. Google is working to get their technology into mass production. This is a very exciting time as market competition accelerates the timing and rapidly improves the quality of automated vehicle choices," said Hans Larsen, public works director for the City of Fremont, CA.

Sol Salinas, connected cities lead at Accenture Mobility, said: "There will be an emphasis on 'last mile' connectivity as 2017 is used to plan ahead for technologies that are currently in pilot phases, such as autonomous vehicles. Autonomous neighborhood fleets, for example, might start to bridge the gap between homes and public transport hubs, allowing passengers to travel more conveniently and safely."

"As connected vehicles become more common, we will start to see real-time status information from central traffic management systems being shared with people, through their cars. Data can already be combined from sensors in vehicles to generate real-time information on current road conditions, traffic, and accidents, and in 2017 smart cities will prepare themselves to take advantage of these new data sets. This will help to make life easier for everyone working, living, and visiting the cities, from helping to avoid traffic jams or crowded areas, to finding a parking space," Salinas said.

Deciphering it all

Kurtis McBride, CEO at Miovision, said, "It's difficult to predict exactly which technologies might mature enough to have a widespread impact in the next year, but I think it's safe to assume that the way people move about their cities and interact with different parts of mobility networks will see some major shifts."

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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