Smart Cities Today and Tomorrow

The world’s urbanisation has been rapid, and dramatic. Between the years 1800 and 200, the percentage of the world’s population of people living in urban areas increased from two percent to 47 percent. 

According to the United Nations’ ‘World Urbanisation Prospects‘ report, that number will increase to 75 percent by 2050.

Pinpointing the exact reasons are difficult, but the UN links economic growth, infrastructure, resources, industrialisation and more advanced employment prospects to the rapid rate of growth.

Regulating the surging growth of cities is no small task. Cities are almost living beasts, that are surprisingly complex. Providing better services to these metropolises with a better understanding of what is happening in the city requires granular data. This, in turn, can make cities more livable, efficient, and environmentally friendly. Early Internet of Things sensors and ideas are already in place, but there are challenges to being able to turn monitoring into understanding.

Here are six smart cities working on building a better life for citizens using clever, useful, innovative ideas, along with a look at how MXC’s non-profit approach may be able to make better use of data and data sharing – and the first city involved with MXC’s solutions, Shanghai.

Barcelona

The second biggest city in Spain is one of the world’s great tourist destinations, from La Rambla to La Sagrada Família.

Here’s a sample of Barcelona’s smart city infrastructure, and the challenges they face.

Smart street lighting, from the transition of 1,100 old lamposts to LED street lights reduce energy consumption for over 50 streets. Sensors brighten lights only when cars, bicycles, and pedestrians are in close proximity, with automatic dimming to conserve energy. Street lighting is also turned on purposefully by the city to highlight and attract people to events. Each street light provides free WiFi, with additional sensors collecting data on air quality. The data is both published publicly, with multiple-language support, and stored by city.

Smart Street lighting in Barcelona

Barcelona’s transportation system is also well advanced, with bull shelters digitised to provide free WiFi, USB charging stations, and provide bus arrival times, with apps for riders to learn or find information about the city. Parking spaces, which have not always been easily come-by, have sensors embedded into the ground to detect the presence of a vehicle. With the help of an app ‘ApparkB’, drivers are directed to free spaces, with parking fees paid for through the app as well. Within one year, the city of Barcelona was helping drivers to 4,000 car parks, and collecting fees more sustainably.

Other useful IoT features include smart waste bins in the city, which monitors the rising amount of garbage and prompt for collection via smart routes. The need to conserve valuable water, in a particular part of the world, was also realised. IoT sensors are used to monitor rain and humidity, along with water levels in public fountains, which allows staff to better determine irrigation, and allows for remote control of electrovalves to deliver water only when and where is necessary.

City Hall proceeded with data collection via a proprietary platform known as Sentilo, which was later made open source for other cities to use. The issue for Barcelona is not data collection, but the capacity to use data beyond silos of information that can better help the city understand its population and make better decisions about infrastructure spending.

The next significant iteration for Barcelona should work to achieve those goals, and make the city’s infrastructure both simpler and better. The city could seek to use an open-source sensor network, with data shared on a common standard. Data protections, better creating anonymity and protection of personal data, along with access to the anonymized public data, are also essential.

Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, in the northern state of Ohio in the US, won $40m via the US Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, with a supplement of up to $10 million from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc, back in 2016.

These funds were awarded to Columbus to allow the city to continue with a grand plan to broadly improve the quality of life within the city, drive economic growth including in logistics, provide better access to jobs and opportunity, and foster sustainability.

The city won the funding, to go with $90m already committed by 60 private partners, to install up to six electric self-driving shuttles in order to link a new bus rapid transit center to a retail district in the city. 

Since then, the city has advanced its plans to become a leader in the US in many facets: remaking public transit through connected bus, shuttle, cars, and traffic lights known as CCTN, accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) through wide availability of charging points and infrastructure, and has explored the possibilities for autonomous vehicles. 3,000 sensors were placed in vehicles and at 175 intersections to monitor traffic patterns and safety via the CCTN.

Other initiatives, focused on nine major projects, include Event Parking Management in two suburbs to guide drivers to parks more efficiently, Smart Mobility Hubs offering pick-ups and drop-offs for multiple modes of transport, plus free WiFi and trip planning kiosks, and the Smart Columbus Operating System, an Open Data Platform that provides anytime access to the city’s latest mobility data. In addition, a single app is planned that would allow residents to pay for all modes of transportation – from catching public transport to paying for parking, along with car-sharing and bike-sharing.

The overall challenge faced by the city is to deploy the funding in a sustainable, smart way, that doesn’t age immediately or become an expensive white elephant. Keeping up with the tech industry’s pace is not easy. Using LoRAWAN with MXProtocol, a popular, robust protocol for LPWAN gateways, would be possible and either lower the cost to the city by harvesting MXC (Machine eXchange Coin), or incentivize grassroots participants to add their own gateways or connected devices. Although not a typical application, firmware updates may be sent via LPWAN as well, allow for constant upgrades of security, connectivity, and performance to keep pace with the industry as well.

Dubai

Dubai’s rise to become a world city and destination in its own right has come through a number of bold initiatives, including of course, the tallest skyscraper in the world, the Burj Khalifa.

Dubai’s ambitions to become the world’s smartest municipality are as high as the 163 floors in Burj Khalifa. The emirate-city aims to improve the happiness of citizens (currently at 90%, with a goal of 95% by 2021) and attract innovation and startups. It is doing so in a number of ways, including rapidly developing machine learning together with IBM to integrate ethical AI into government services and city experiences. It is developing a “UAE Pass”, a digital ID and digital signature to dramatically simplify bureaucracy, all part of an initiative for the Dubai Government to move to paperless governance, with phase one completed in January 2019. The city is searching to better discover people’s wants and needs, inspire positive change, build awareness and encourage self-reflection.

Dubai is also providing startup support via an accelerator, providing funding for blockchain initiatives, and the  Dubai Future Accelerators, a program to pair technology companies with government organizations to create new solutions. Another project, Silicon Park at Dubai Silicon Oasis, is a complete smart environment over 150,000 square metres, combining office space, restaurants, cafes, prayer rooms, a shopping center, parking space for 2500+ cars, with intelligent solutions for lifestyle, sport, mobility, and energy and sustainability.

The significant challenge for Dubai is heavily based on its weather. Providing environmental sustainable air conditioning is somewhat of a tautology while assessing the integrity of buildings during occasional heavy storms are both genuine challenges.

With the help of MXC and a LPWAN rollout, Dubai can lower costs and also be sustainable. Installing sensors and connecting them to LPWAN gateway can give real-time data for better management. The anti-collision feature of MXProtocol supports significantly large operations at scale.

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s smart city initiatives, working together with USDOT, are significantly focused on improving transportation to improve opportunities for all within Pittsburgh, including disadvantaged and low-income neighborhoods. Better connections serve all citizens to provide access to social and economic hubs, and include elements such as smart, learning traffic lights to solve traffic jams, street lights to monitor traffic and air quality, infrastructure for autonomous and electric vehicles, with a focus on ‘smart spines’, corridors between Pittsburgh’s densest population centers and Downtown and Oakland. A case study on this system, known as Surtrac, found that it reduced vehicle waiting time at intersections by 40 percent, helping decrease vehicle emissions by 21 percent. 150 more intersections will be upgraded by 2019-20.

The challenges in continuing to connect Pittsburgh are significant – providing sufficient transportation has economic challenges, and the isolation of low-income neighborhoods is not easily overcome.

MXC in action can provide multiple opportunities for City Hall in PGH. Adding more smart traffic lights to smooth traffic flows and reduce jams is possible using data and sensors.

Harvesting MXC can boost income as well – for example, installing an LPWAN gateway in an area that is isolated can boost the amount of MXC gathered by that gateway, and hence can reach integration of neighborhoods of different income levels.

San Francisco

While San Francisco is home to some of the world’s most ambitious companies, the city itself is working hard to become a smart city. Hampered by ageing public transport rail infrastructure such as BART and MUNI, which require enormous investment, the city known as SF is exploring transport solutions that include shared and connected electric vehicles. 

In 2017, San Francisco ranked first or second in the International Council on Clean Transportation report for total EV promotion actions, EV uptake, and public and workplace charging infrastructure. 

The city has further implemented legislation, such as the Electric Vehicle Readiness Ordinance, to formalize EV developments. This includes requiring new buildings to install sufficient electrical infrastructure to simultaneously charge (at Level 2 charging) EVs in 20 percent of parking spaces provided. The city is also encouraging private operators by providing on-street parking spaces for shared vehicles.

With MXC-led solutions, SF can go further. By providing LPWAN with MXC, vehicles can be connected together with an interchain data market to provide valuable data to vehicle operators and related services.  MXC’s technical anti-collision feature provides sufficiently large scale operations to avoid data collisions.

Singapore

The city-state of Singapore is a fascinating mix of old colonial and new futuristic, encapsulated by its ever-changing skyline. Given its unique stature, Singapore is aiming to go beyond a smart city to a smart nation, focusing on creating a sustainable, living environment, across many facets. 

Two focuses are transport and health. The city has established a Smart Elderly Alert System, which via non-intrusive sensors placed in the home, allows the elderly to live independently while providing peace of mind to family members and caregivers. 

Transport is a particularly important issue, with the tiny nation giving up 12% of its land for roads and transport infrastructure. To optimize usage, a multi-faceted approach has been taken, mixing on-demand shuttles, autonomous vehicle infrastructure, contactless fare payments in public transport, and open data to make better decisions. 

An islandwide roll-out of an automated water meter reading system is also underway, to encourage water conservation.

MXC offers an environmentally friendly, interchain data market, with a built-in anti-collision coordinator. Singapore is a small country, so data-driven decisions are important. MXC enables efficient usage of data to make better decisions.

The common challenges

These smart cities face many of the same desires and challenges. Data-driven decision making is truly smart decision making. Yet adding and maintaining sensors via a common protocol, along with both storing and making the data publicly available is a problem. 

MXC’s non-profit solution to encourage LPWAN take-up, manage data-collisions, and incentivize grassroots participation, offers significant benefits to these cities, and rapidly urbanizing cities, across the planet.

Shanghai steps up

One of the first movers is the city of Shanghai in China, which will adopt MXC’s Smart City IoT LPWAN Standard, MXProtocol, announced in early March, following pilots in South Korea and New York City.

“The Shanghai District and MXC are cooperating in the construction of smart cities and the development of the IoT industry,” said Qing Ma, Director of Science and Technology Department of Shanghai Yangpu District. “With this partnership, we expect to increase efficiency and to improve our citizen’s lives.”