Smart interconnected cities: the urban digital hives of the future

What happens when rising urbanisation meets the Internet of Things? You get interconnected cities and a better way of living.
29 April 2021 Michael Holtzhausen

In 2019, Axios conducted a survey in the US asking Internet users if they would be comfortable living in a smart city. Remarkably, 65% of respondents said they were okay with the idea. It seems the wave of technophobia around artificial intelligence (AI) has passed and people are less wary of new technologies. Perhaps it’s because people see daily practical examples of how innovations make their lives more convenient or because millennials and Gen Z are old enough to have a say.

Whatever the reason, the public is willing to embrace a shift to smart cities. Let’s unpack how these cities of the future will change our lives.

What are smart cities?

Smart cities use a range of technologies like AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), beacons and recently, 5G, to collect and analyse data from smart devices and sensors. This data is then used to optimise operations across an urban development. Smart cities work autonomously with little human facilitation needed. Imagine the way a beehive works but instead of honey bees, you have bots and drones.

The following are just some of the parts of urban life that smart cities can improve:

    • Transport

      Connected vehicles and smart traffic lights could mean the end of rush-hour traffic. They can coordinate in real time to reduce congestion on the road. They can also help drivers to avoid road hazards and roadworks.

    • Energy

      Smart energy grids can use sensors, routers and radio modules to predict and address power outages without having to dispatch a team every time. The system can redirect power and ensure energy efficiency across the grid using AI and smart utility meters.

    • Waste management

      Smart trash cans can signal waste management services when they are full. This helps optimise pick-up routes to collect waste when it needs to be and not on a fixed schedule.

    • Pollution monitors

      Smart air-quality monitors use sensors to detect the amount of pollutants in the air and automatically transmit that information to people’s smartphones. This can help citizens to avoid exercising outdoors or leaving the house if there’s too much sulphur dioxide in the air. The monitors can also immediately inform you if there are allergens or chemical irritants hovering in the air inside your home.

    • Surveillance

      Smart CCTV cameras use facial recognition to track individuals across the city. This could improve security and assist in tracking down criminals.

How do we keep smart cities secure?

You’re probably wondering what might happen when a smart city gets hacked? The more connected systems are, the more devastating a potential cyberattack can be. This means that our data protection techniques have to become just as smart (and perhaps even as self-governing) as the smart cities we build.

First, it will take a combination of flashy innovations such as machine learning with more tried-and-tested security measures like certificate-based authentication for all “things” and sensors in an IoT network.

Then we’re going to need more advanced failover and continuity solutions to keep the city running in the event of a breach or data loss. High availability will have to be built into every node of the interconnected systems.

Finally, human effort will not be sufficient for keeping a vast network of data like a smart city under lock and key – AI will have to take the lead for maximum data protection and data privacy.

When can you move into a smart neighbourhood?

Despite how futuristic smart cities seem, they’re closer to becoming a reality than you might think. New York, Amsterdam, Singapore and Dubai all have smart city initiatives under way. Closer to home, South Africa has plans to complete the Lanseria Smart City project by 2030. The city will have widespread 5G coverage and CCTV with facial recognition functionality. Perhaps the future is already here.

STS can help you future-proof your organisation and prepare for innovations that are on the horizon. Get in touch with us for more information.

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