Smart cities are beginning to catch on. But there is a lot of confusion still as to what makes a city smart. Just because there is a smart grid, or a smart sewer system, that doesn’t necessarily make the city smart. Sure they are components of the smart city but it takes a lot more than just one or two intelligent infrastructure components to qualify.
For example, one of the major players (we won’t mention their name but the initials are ATT) who seems to be pushing the smart city concept is using their marketing teams to promote smart city services by simply making adding some capabilities to infrastructure services.
AT&T and a water utility have added a sensor system to water mains. Acoustic sensors placed along the pipes trigger alarms when they sense sound changes that may indicate leaks. This data is sent to computing resources running water management applications – that’s it. Hmmm…does that really make the city smart? I think not.
But what it is, is a smart city solution – and one of many. And not all that impressive. In addition to leak detection, a brag-able solution would also test water quality, measure level, control flow, determine pipe condition (not just when leaks happen, but where they are likely to happen), and other data, then it can be called smart.
The same goes for other components of the city. Just because it has remote meter reading capability and automatic street lights that turn on at dusk and off at dawn, doesn’t make it a smart city. There is a lot more to the smart city and much of the current hype suffers from marketing spin.
So what are the metrics for smart cities? The commonly accepted definition is that a smart city improves the lives of its inhabitants by making it easier to maintain their life style, whatever it is. There are variants of that, but that is the basic idea. And to accomplish that, there are a number of elements that truly make the city smart.
One of the key metrics is a low-power, wide-area network. That is a requirement for connecting myriad devices, especially sensors, switches and activators with advanced power saving capabilities – we are talking years here, not weeks or months for power source life. And, along with that, they need to be low-cost, so they can be ubiquitously deployed.
Very important; once the hardware issues are conquered the next qualifier is edge computing. Without this, the city may have all types of interconnect, supplying mountains of big data, but without edge computing the latency will be unacceptable and the ability for the cloud or other analysis systems to assess, analyze and act upon the yottabytes of data will render the network gridlocked.
Then there is standardization. This makes it possible to deploy smart components quickly, cheaply and universally, without worrying about compatibility and all the headaches that come with proprietary technology. And even if the technology is proprietary, as long as the interface is standard – that is the majority of the challenge.
Finally, the city will need smart data analysis and response platforms. The power necessary to aggregate large volumes of data, analyze it and then act upon it is demanding. Fortunately, the hardware is available – so is much of the software. The trick is to know when to use the cloud, when to keep it at the edge and what to do with what you have.
Smart cities are certainly evolving. But let’s not confuse a few smart solutions with the real thing.