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Chief Technology Officer at Integrity Management Services, Inc., where she is leading cutting-edge technology solutions (AI) for clients.
Throughout the world, governments have been challenged by rapid urbanization, increased citizen expectations and the need for modern infrastructure. The advent of cloud computing has accelerated the adoption of new technological solutions for improving our cities and our quality of life.
Smart cities or communities are rapidly expanding to create new economic opportunities, conserve the environment and enhance citizen services. Research suggests that there has been an increase in funding in smart cities (download required) in cities across North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Latin America. According to Smart Cities World, the market for smart cities will be over $2 trillion by 2025.
What is a smart city or a smart community?
The main goal of smart communities is to use digital solutions to address the challenges of a city, county or region to:
1. Conserve resources in the long term.
2. Improve the well-being of citizens through the provision of efficient public utilities and services.
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3. Predict potential hazards and take preventive actions — such as flood detection, energy shortages, sewer leaks, etc.
4. Use of data and digital platforms to improve citizen involvement for healthcare or social services.
5. Make environmentally friendly choices along with clean energy.
What is an example of a smart community?
There are many successful implementations of smart cities around the world. For example, the city of Dijon in France is considered France’s first smart city. Dijon focused on improving the utility infrastructure to reduce electric costs by employing smart street lighting, smart parking, etc. Another focus area was the safety and security of citizens that was achieved by connected smart services including Wi-Fi spots, CCTVs and a centralized hub for crisis management.
Recently, I was able to witness a smart community firsthand close to where I live in Virginia. Stafford County has been planning, designing and investing in a smart community testbed for the last few years. Their efforts finally came to fruition on May 25th, 2021 with the inauguration of the smart community test center. Some of the focus areas of Stafford smart county initiatives are 1. broadband everywhere, 2. reduction of traffic congestion, 3. improved community safety along with vehicle and pedestrian safety, 4. the reduction of energy consumption and 5. making the community attractive to new businesses, startups and citizens.
The following are some of the use cases being piloted in the Virginia Smart Community Testbed in Stafford:
1. Public Safety
• Use of drones for public safety and emergency management.
• Covid-19 testing in wastewater.
• Utilization of sensors for smoke and flood detection.
• Utilize cutting-edge blockchain-based military-grade cyber technology to secure IoT sensors.
• Deploy cameras in the government center that utilize this technology.
• Implement fixed wireless broadband to the underserved population.
4. Hazard Detection
• Use of outdoor sensors for detecting forest fires and floods.
5. Building Management
• Use of a centralized incident response platform to improve situational awareness for a quicker and safer response.
6. Economic Development And Tourism
• Virtual Reality (VR) and digital twins to provide a virtual history tour of the county for potential tourists.
What should cities be doing to get started on smart city initiatives?
To get started with smart city initiatives, understand the needs of the region, speak to residents and businesses to gather feedback and prioritize use cases. Next, think about funding options — partnerships, alliances and grants are typical funding sources. For example, Athens created a successful smart city project due to its collaboration with partners such as Microsoft. Lastly, think of a pilot program to launch your initiative in order to test the use cases before scaling up.
How can smart cities handle cyber threats?
IoT devices used in smart cities expose vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cyberattacks. Hence, it’s important to focus on methodologies to reduce the cybersecurity risk. Some of these methods include — foundational measures of authentication, encryption and access control. Add to that ongoing security monitoring and end-to-end security lifecycle management to include vendors and third-party devices.
What are the challenges when implementing smart cities?
Apart from the challenges of dealing with funding issues and cybersecurity, the following are some of the challenges to consider when implementing smart city solutions:
1. Infrastructure. Technology infrastructure is at the core of a smart city (network, IoT devices, etc.) and challenges can include power supply, connectivity and seamless integration. Buenos Aires, Argentina is an excellent example of establishing infrastructure that connects various IT systems and streamlined information flow. They were able to connect citizen problems reported via a mobile app to the local government, who in turn assigned it to the nearest vendor to solve the problem.
2. Building inclusive smart cities. Ensure that considerations of all sectors of residents are included, especially the protected classes, even those who don’t have connectivity.
3. Privacy. Providing assurance to residents about the privacy of the data collected with clear communication and transparency.
4. Community engagement. In order for smart cities to be effective, it’s important to get involved with residents. Organizing town-halls, email newsletters and online education can help with keeping the citizens engaged and get up-to-date information.
Smart communities have become an essential expectation from citizens as they’re looking toward improved quality of life and creating a sustainable environment for future generations. However, a smart community is not about implementing high-tech digital solutions but about creating solutions with citizen engagement, community-first initiatives and measuring the impact on the lives of people in the community.