The rapid development of Internet of Things (IoT) technology and edge computing framework has driven many city planners to rethink their infrastructure and services. Forward-thinking cities are developing and rolling out a number of smart city initiatives that take advantage of these technologies to improve efficiency and provide better services. While smart city development is still in the early stages, several major US cities are already showing tremendous ambition with their plans and provide a model for other cities to follow.
A smart city is any urban area that incorporates IoT, edge computing architecture, and widely-available internet connectivity to enhance efficiency and service. Smart city infrastructure can be used to improve transportation, help residents access information and services more easily, or make entirely new ways of urban living possible. These initiatives generally focus on improving the connectivity of an area and then incorporating a series of sensors and other devices from there. Smart city infrastructure also extends that connectivity into existing services, such as public transit and utilities, in an effort to reduce waste.
Although many people still think of Pittsburgh as an industrial manufacturing center, the city has spent much of the 21st century reinventing itself as a dynamic technology hub with an emphasis on transportation infrastructure, robotics, and clean energy. The city’s Surtrac system showcases how smart city technology investments can pay off. Installed at key intersections and traffic corridors (or “smart spines,” as the city calls them), the system uses a combination of AI and robotics to monitor changing traffic patterns and adapt traffic signals to help reduce travel time and emissions. Since the system was implemented, motorists have spent 40 percent less time waiting at intersections and made 30-40 percent fewer stops, allowing them to reach their destinations 25 percent faster. Emissions were also reduced by an estimated 20 percent, further justifying the city’s decision to expand the Surtrac system in the coming years.
In addition to laying out smart city developments to build a connected vehicle network that allows freight trucks to communicate with each other and coordinate delivery routes to alleviate congestion, the Mile High City is also installing pedestrian detection systems at key intersections to improve safety. The more ambitious initiative, however, is a mixed-use development project known as Peña Station NEXT. A pilot program designed to explore the viability and potential of a truly integrated smart city, Peña Station NEXT will be a 220-acre development powered by clean energy and built from the ground up to incorporate the latest technology and transportation infrastructure. Multifamily housing, retail space, and commercial offices will exist alongside one another in an attempt to demonstrate how the smart cities of the future could be designed to maximize efficiency, utility, and comfort.
The winner of the US Department of Transportation’s 2016 Smart City Challenge, Columbus received a $50 million grant to fund the Smart Columbus initiative, a series of nine projects designed to improve mobility throughout the city. Among these projects is a system to consolidate the many different apps and payment systems used for services like public transit, parking, bike-sharing, and traffic information into a single app, making it easier for residents and visitors to utilize the many services the city has to offer while eliminating wasteful redundancies. The city is also experimenting with freight convoy systems that will allow semi-autonomous freight trucks to communicate easily and coordinate their routes to improve traffic flow and reduce fuel consumption.
While the city may be famous for its casinos and world-class entertainment, Las Vegas has also established itself as a leader in smart city technology, investing millions in programs to reduce carbon emissions, eliminate traffic congestion, and increase pedestrian safety. City officials are also trying to ease pressure on municipal employees by exploring the use of IoT-enabled trash cans and dumpsters to optimize pickup schedules. The city has worked hard to lay down the infrastructure necessary for smart city development, installing more than 123 miles’ worth of fiber-optic cable and partnering with private investors to make Las Vegas a major data center hub, featuring a number of hyperscale data centers.
Starting with the installation of Google Fiber in 2011, Kansas City has made several investments over the last several years to turn itself into the “smartest city on planet Earth.” Partnering with Cisco, the city is adding smart city technology to its new streetcar line and has installed a series of digital kiosks and smart LED streetlights in its downtown area. The city is also providing free public WiFi in this area, making it easier for residents and visitors to get all the information they need conveniently. As the city moves into the second phase of its smart city development, it plans to extend services into other areas and install smart IoT sensors to monitor traffic patterns and how services are used in an effort to improve efficiency.
While these cities are making headlines in the US for their ambitious plans, smart city technology initiatives are being implemented around the world. These programs represent the tip of the iceberg, offering a glimpse of how urban planners will design and rethink the infrastructure of tomorrow’s technology-rich cities.