What will the cities of the future be like? What do we mean when we hear about smart cities?
Often the expression smart city - a consequence of the digital transformation and the use of IoT technology in the different spheres of the Public Administration - is associated with the technological dimension present in cities alone.
The architect and engineer Carlo Ratti, on the other hand, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and one of the world's leading pioneers in the urban field, uses the term sense-able innovation to express the idea of sensitivity and perception and describe this new urban model of cities: cities that are sensitive and capable of feeling. Cities where complex large-scale infrastructures - such as energy consumption, waste, mobility, healthcare, education - become endless in data. Cities that, thanks to the digitization of work processes and the organization of these shared data, aim to improve the quality of life of those who live them.
In this regard, we cannot fail to mention the Roboat project for self-driving boats in Amsterdam or remember the pioneering Trash Track project that moves into the past from the same Lab and designed to map the waste system in the United States, through the provision of digital labels for GPS position tracking.
"The most surprising thing - said Ratti - was that the results obtained, in addition to being useful for better waste management, also promoted a change in the behavior of the participants".
Not surprisingly, as had already been indicated in his previous book Smart City, Smart Citizen:
“An intelligent city is not made up of people who simply respond to inputs, but of citizens who play a fundamental role: that of protagonists in the process of collecting and sharing data. After all, connected citizens are the engine of urban change in the cities of the future ”.
In fact, it is precisely this infinite amount of data that we produce, starting from the most elementary operations we perform with our smartphone up to those made possible by artificial intelligence and the IoT (on the IoT and the challenges to be faced read here - link to internal article), to guarantee the cities of the future that ability to feel, and at the same time, to allow those who design and govern them to think about new development paradigms.
“The cities of today have been made men of yesterday. We have the right to think about those of tomorrow, without complexes, as long as the goal is this: tomorrow. Making cities today for today means making them old. Technologies will have to pervade everything and then disappear from our eyes. " - says Ratti.
Exploiting the maximum potential from technologies
But how is this possible? How to relate objects, infrastructures and citizens? How to integrate all shared data and exploit the potential of new technologies and digital applications that make our cities smart and sensitive?
This is what Sensoworks pursues with its IoT platform as a solution to support the smart city paradigm. The goal is to automate the collection of these critical data for urban management and process them to allow the public administration to define strategies and services to improve:
To learn more about the Sensoworks smart city solution and if you want to proceed with other Sales information, schedule a meeting with our Head of Sales, Eleonora Stragliotto (book a meeting on her calendar).
This, according to the European Commission which took the lead in the tech transformation of the Union and its cities.
The adoption of information and telecommunication technologies (ICT) has consequences in various fields, categorized as follows by the University of Vienna:
This wide, although precise, classification helps us understand how diverse the goals of future cities will be.
New mobility, less impactful water and electricity supply, waste management efficiency, reactive and digital management, safety for citizens and those in need are just some of the goals.
Sensoworks already contributed to the debate and proposed multiple solutions to improve the life quality of our cities. Thus, the focus of this article will be Smart Mobility.
The main aim of Smart Mobility is to put forward innovative solutions for urban travel within the city. Indeed, decreasing traffic and allowing for flexible, safe, convenient, and green routes are the keys to improve the quality of life.
We can achieve these models by improving both the transport means and the infrastructure we already have.
Flexibility and efficiency are two of the main features of new mobility. For instance, travelers have to have the possibility to choose the best route each time according to their itinerary, to access the route easily, and to reach their destination in the shortest time possible.
Moreover, travelers must be ensured with a safe journey with reliable means and adequate infrastructure, such as bike lanes, charging stations, road signs, and ad-hoc paths designed for micromobility - also thanks to mobility companies, as in the case of Lime.
The plan is the green development of mobility.
Kick scooters, electric bikes and scooters are increasingly common in cities, together with car sharing, the pioneer service in the industry.
All these tools aim to reduce emissions and pollution both with a decrease in the use of fuel and in urban traffic.
Infographics by the Italian National Observatory of Sharing Mobility
Moreover, they cause other benefits, direct and indirect: the cost of sharing is definitely lower, both from an economic and a quality of life perspective. In the main European cities, indeed, citizens take 30-40% more time than what is actually needed to get to their destination. Estimates say that this extra time costs 1% of the EU GDP, that is 100 billion euros, annually.
To reduce traveling time means to reduce pollution and stress and to increase productivity with benefits at a local, national, and community level.
The growth of smart mobility doesn’t only apply to how citizens travel, but also to the management, integration, and safety of citizens, through the development and monitoring of the infrastructural grid connected to mobility.
In particular, the management of fleets of vehicles is a fundamental component to improve urban services.
Safer vehicles and a consatant monitoring of all their components guarantee better performance and increased efficiency. Just as the integration of different transport methods.
By improving essential urban centres, such as stations, parking lots, schools, and offices we can design a mobility focused on micro journeys.
Lastly, the adoption of new V2I methodologies (“vehicle to infrastructure”), instead, allows us a 360° vision of the city’s road grid.
This deals with the installation of sensors on the main road junctions to notify drivers about traffic or weather conditions, but also to help them understand whether they parked properly their vehicle or whether road lights in a certain section of the road are working or not.
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According to a classification made by the University of Vienna, there are 6 factors that distinguish a smart city:
Each factor contributes to the achievement of a smart city where the gap between needs and satisfaction is filled. The technology that helps us make a city smart is the IoT (Internet of Things), where everything ideally "comes to life" thanks to appropriately installed sensors and a stable widespread wireless communication in every corner of the city. All data generated by sensors converge to a central ”brain”, where they are further elaborated through sophisticated AI algorithms, so that the "smart things" act accordingly to the humans’ preferences and habits.
The things become intelligent, break down spatial distance and allow you to satisfy all your needs in the shortest time possible, without having to even leave your house.
Although urbanization is not a strictly contemporary phenomenon, these last decades saw an exponential increase in the urban population. Only 15 years ago, the rural population was still the majority of people on Earth - only in 2007 the urban population exceeded rural areas for the first time in all history!
This should be enough to understand the massive change demography and urbanization went through. But most importantly, it should be enough to realize the huge impact this massive shift in our living habits had on the environment and on the society we are all part of. If we also add the simplification of travel and movement around cities, for tourism or work-related visits, and the ease of purchase for cars and other means of transport, then we can picture the increased complexity of society today.
If pollution, overpopulation, poor mobility were true three decades ago, today we find these to be exponentially amplified by a larger number of people living in urban areas as much as they are exacerbated by years and years of inefficient policies and inactivity. However, it is also true that today we have easier access to advanced technologies and solutions.
Today’s technologies help us to harvest and process the many data we need to assess critical situations or to increase maintenance and conservation efficiency. IoT is an incredible solution in this sense: it allows us to not only have a constant eye on the places sensors are installed on, but also to harvest all the necessary data and to send them to a processing terminal and to translate them into understandable information.
Data transmission technologies have developed a lot in recent years and allow for a high level of connectivity in every corner of the city: just think of how we have evolved from 2G to 5G technologies in just under 30 years, with new 6G technologies currently under development. This technological evolution encouraged and allowed us to send and receive quantities of data unthinkable just until a few decades ago. Not only, at the same time new data recording and security techniques are available too, such as blockchain technology, which encrypts the data in unchangeable ledgers of data for future reference and use.
All of this led to wider involvement of technology and companies in the public life, bringing the private sector and the suppliers of new solutions closer to the public administrations. Today, it is more common to see contracts and partnerships between the public and the private sectors for the monitoring and supply of technologies for infrastructure and construction sites. This gives birth to a whole new way of conceiving the expansion and control of cities’ infrastructure and utilities.
Cities all around the world are already trying to take advantage of these new technologies with an array of new solutions, methodologies and devices such as sensors, controllers, communication devices, cameras, and so on. However, installing such devices is only the first step in the transformation to a smart city. The fundamental step is the implementation of a “brain”, a central terminal that allows the dialogue between devices and people.
An example of a solution by means of data monitoring is that of mobility and traffic congestion. Gathering and translating the necessary data can help us monitor traffic and parking circulation or support greater amounts of traveling vehicles without having to incur in the costs of widening urban roads or adding new roadways and parking lots.
Solutions that entail the use of sensors embedded into the floor to register whether a vehicle is parked in the space right above them or placed on the entrance and exit of a car park might give us an idea of how many parking spaces are available. While a combination of sensors such as license plate readers, in-vehicle sensors, CCTV cameras to check congestion, in-road embedded sensors to monitor the passage and the staying of cars, it gives us a good assessment of the ongoing traffic situation.
Although this is usually confined to only a specific, critical area, rather than the city on its whole, new V2I methodologies (“vehicle to infrastructure” as opposed to V2V, “vehicle to vehicle”), instead, can give a more holistic view of the city’s road system. For instance, V2I corridors installed on the road of smart cities can alert the driver of upcoming traffic or even weather conditions beforehand, suggesting that they might want to slow down or follow an alternative route so as not to get stuck in traffic later on the way.
However, although the new trends on micromobility and a larger adoption of alternative means of transportation, a poor infrastructural use of roads is still a major problem afflicting big cities and capitals around the world. Traffic jams take a heavy toll on our environment, besides posing a problem to noise pollution and having all of us commuters lose time stuck on the road or in front of outdated traffic lights. As much as it may sound weird: yes, the traffic light system we currently use in much of the world is proven to be outdated.
Moreover, parking and traffic are not only a major cause of jams and frustration, but it also affects an important source of revenue for the municipality. Parking, indeed, is usually the second or third largest source of income for towns and cities. A poor use of parking spaces or of infrastructure - such as the lack of multi floor parking compounds in city centers - can have terrible repercussions not only on the environment, but also on the city finance.
Advanced Traffic Management Systems (ATMS) and Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS), however, mainly rely on fixed point, eulerian measurements from loop and radar detectors. These can collect data relating to flow, speed and occupancy (as in the examples we’ve seen earlier) but cannot provide trajectory-based information such as direct trip observations or the time of travel on routes - that is lagrangian measurements. This means that we are missing important clues on the behavior of traffic to better understand how to improve our cities.
The data harvested from different systems employing lagrangian measurements, together with already existing tech solutions and measurements, would allow us to to have a more holistic view of how the city works and to further instruct drivers and passersby on the ongoing situation of traffic congestions and parking not only on given areas at a certain time, but also predicting the flow of cars, travel time, departure time of cars from parking spaces and so on.
Although we already saw many innovations taking place in cities such as Shanghai, Pittsburgh, London, New York, Milan, and so on, the space for innovation and for further progress is wide open and we should not stop researching further to simplify and improve our cities and lives.
Urban contexts are various and different, each with their needs and peculiarities. That is why Sensoworks developed a highly customizable platform that can be employed across different industries.
All our products are designed by specialized engineers. This is to ensure max efficiency when it comes to our features, architecture and UX to both private and public customers. Moreover, we work in close collaboration with HW manufacturers and integrators. The ecosystem we built - and are constantly improving - allows us to design our platform to be a real end-to-end solution, from the sensors our hardware partners produced to the integration of our services to the customer’s entire architecture.
Whether our customers are private companies or public institutions, we developed our platform to be as flexible as it gets to allow you to start up with low costs, to grow quickly and to integrate with new, future tools (and cut off outdated software).
We pay close attention to the use of data, which have to be constantly available and immediately turned into information. We do this thanks to our Edge component, which allows data to be analyzed in real time by peripheral devices. In case an event occurs, the platform takes the necessary decisions on the very same place, allowing for immediate answers with low latency.
The Edge computing component, moreover, allows for the recovery of data from different kinds of devices connected to the same edge gateway, which works as a hub for the whole connectivity system. This way, data is sent to the Cloud platform from one only gateway. The union of more devices together avoids individual one-to-one communication (sensor/terminal) and cuts down energy consumption, improving the overall performance of connectivity in smart cities.
Speaking of smart cities, our work is not aimed only at managing parking problems. We have a wider goal: to create a unique infrastructure to gather all the data related to the city’s life and activities and to integrate it with third-party software and applications as well, supporting the entire community.If you want to know more about how our platform works and discover the whole range of monitoring solutions we provide, write to us. Write a comment or come visit us on sensoworks.com.