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Smart Cities Increase Efficiencies of All Kinds, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

A growing number of cities around the world are investing in sensors, software and networks that monitor everything from noise, to road traffic, to air quality and pedestrian movement.  These “smart cities” analyze reams of data and adjust a wide variety of services to maximize efficiency and minimize waste in a number of sectors including energy (such as street lighting), infrastructure, transportation, mobility and architecture/construction.  Data generated by these sensors and systems will rely on both the Internet of things (IoT) and machine learning to greatly enhance efficiencies in the way that people live, work, shop and commute.
For example, networks of embedded sensors are reducing energy consumption by streetlights and traffic signals.  The city of Copenhagen led the way with a cutting-edge wireless network of streetlamps and sensors.  Bike lanes are marked with embedded green lights that sense oncoming cyclists and illuminate long enough for riders to proceed safely through (called the “Green Wave”).  LED streetlights brighten as vehicles approach and then dim when traffic passes.  Smartphone apps alert drivers to light changes to ease congestion.  Other cities and communities are following suit.  Los Angeles is switching to outdoor LED lighting with traffic sensors that detect congestion and synchronize signals.
In Barcelona, sensors alert garbage collectors only when trash containers are full.  Parking-space sensors transmit data to drivers via smartphone apps as to where available spaces are, reducing the need to spend time and fuel looking for spots.  Barcelona’s bus service has been updated to run on a more efficient route structure, increasing ridership 30% in four years.  Monitors in streetlights can track noise and crowd movement, even alerting police to crowds when necessary.  The city of Boston has instituted similar sensors, while Hamburg’s port computerized its loading systems to streamline offloading and reduce traffic jams.  Singapore is also deploying sensors for virtual mapping, vehicle tracking, crowd measurement and the level of cleanliness in public places.
The McKinsey Global Institute conducted a recent study in which it found that smart city applications could reduce fatalities by 8%-10%; accelerate emergency response times by 20%-35%; cut average commutes by 15%-20%; lower the disease burden by 8%-15%; and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10%-15%.  McKinsey Global estimates that by 2025, cities that adopt such smart technologies will save up to $1.7 trillion per year on all city services.  Sensor manufacturers, software companies and data analysis firms, including IBM, Cisco and Microsoft, are rushing to get in on the smart city bonanza.
Top technology firms like Google and its parent firm called Alphabet are well aware of the business potential from these trends.  Alphabet has a subsidiary called Sidewalk Labs that is working closely with U.S. cities to develop cutting edge, technology-based services that can ease car and truck traffic congestion, improve pedestrian flow and make cities safer and more enjoyable.  In this regard, Sidewalk Labs has developed a software platform called Flow, aimed at diagnosing traffic patterns and avoiding congestion.
The U.S. Department of Transportation launched, in December 2015, an initiative called Smart City Challenge, with a grant of $40 million to the city that submitted the best proposal for implementation of smart city technologies within a given locale.  Sidewalk Labs worked with the finalists to refine their proposals.  It was a joint learning exercise that helped Sidewalk Labs better understand the goals of the cities and helped the cities to better understand the potential of traffic analysis sensors and software.  Columbus, Ohio was awarded the $40 million with a plan to deploy three self-driving electric shuttles to link a bus rapid transit center and a retail district, as well as using data analytics to improve health access in a neighborhood with an abnormally high infant mortality rate.  Also, Columbus plans to create what it calls a “Smart Columbus Operating System.”  It will be focused on transportation at first but may be widely expanded in the future.  The city won an additional $10 million from the late Paul Allen’s Vulcan, Inc. and $90 million from a number of private partners.
A proposed $50 million project in Toronto, Canada hoped to transform 12 flood-prone acres called Quayside into a testing area for urban problem solving.  (Initially, the plan also included the adjacent 150-acre River District.)  Sidewalk Labs was working with government agency Waterfront Toronto to test technologies including robotics, thermal power generation and self-driving vehicles.  For example, robots could be used to deliver packages and haul away trash using underground tunnels.  Private cars would not be allowed in the area, with robo-taxis and self-driving vehicles providing transportation.  Some buildings are to be made of wood prefabricated in a Sidewalk-funded factory and meet exacting environmental standards.  Automatic awnings would extend during wet weather and walking paths would quickly melt snow.  Beneath the ground, Quayside would build a digital layer of sensors to monitor use of everything from streets to sidewalks to park benches, in addition to noise levels and water and power consumption. 
Smart city detractors are concerned about privacy issues.  In the case of Quayside, some people criticize the plan as a way for Sidewalk Labs’ parent company Google to expand its surveillance reach from internet searches into the physical world.  The project was scaled back in late 2019 after a vote by Canadian government agency Waterfront Toronto unanimously limited the project to its original 12 acres.  The agency announced plans to further evaluate the project.

Privacy and Cybersecurity Issues with Smart City Networks, Devices and Data
Maintaining individual citizens’ privacy is a major issue for smart city initiatives in the EU, U.S. and Canada.  The use of cameras to monitor foot traffic and vehicle traffic patterns implies the ability to capture data on the exact location of people (facial recognition) and their vehicles (license plates) at a given time and place.  That includes where a trip (or walk) may have started, what stops were made and where the trip ended.  The possibilities for abuse are endless.  
For example, if criminals hack into such systems, they could monitor the locations and habits of people to target for sex abuse (including children), kidnapping, blackmail or mugging.  There are many issues to resolve in this area, and one of the most vital is making smart city networks safe from intruders.

     Asia and Europe generally dominate the smart city trend, although interest is high in the U.S. and Canada.  For example, Singapore’s Smart Nation Vision is a widely copied model for smart city development.  Dubai also set a high standard for smart city evolution with heavy emphasis on IoT.

SPOTLIGHT:  Top Cities Adopting Smart City Strategies Include:
Many analysts are attempting to evaluate special city-wide efforts to adopt smart city projects. Top cities listed often include:
=         Singapore, Singapore
=         Dubai, UAE
=         Seoul, S. Korea
=         Helsinki, Finland
=         Oslo, Norway
=         Copenhagen, Denmark
=         Boston, Mass., U.S.
=         Amsterdam, Netherlands
=         New York City, NY., U.S.
=         London, UK
=         Barcelona, Spain
=         Hong Kong, Hong Kong

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