As several US cities have shown, sensors and data processing gets us pothole counting and prediction for example. However, it is now clear that smart cities can be zero emission, quiet and make all their own clean water, food and electricity. That beats counting potholes any day. Indeed, smart materials are leading to modular roads made from recycled plastic that are hollow, taking flood water, generate their own electricity for self de-icing and even charge electric vehicles at speed.
Smart roads have embedded interactive lighting, self-powered, and structural health monitoring. Yes, most of them are experimental but at the Smart Cities International Symposium in Chicago recently it was clear that the most heroic achievements will be achieved by hardware from robot shuttles with robot delivery dogs to solar windows and solar and water-powered desalination. Waymo has ordered 80,000 city cars to convert to autonomous.
Food is grown under London and in Tokyo skyscrapers. We heard about the amazing virtuosity of algae. They can make hydrogen for fuel cells, food, lamps, heat, sewage treatment and drinking water, much of this being progressed in the Netherlands, we learned. Although most speakers continued to consider smart cities to be sensor and data driven, it was reported that Las Vegas is replacing its optical cameras detecting litter and people in parks, traffic flow and more with cruder infrared cameras for privacy reasons. They cannot identify drug dealers or even litter.
Utilities were seen as a problem in the USA. Monopolistic utilities have impeded progress to microgrid mesh networks in prospectively energy independent cities. Pay day loans are still driven primarily by the need to pay the utility bill in the Chicago region. However, these are reasons to press onwards and many new technologies will assist. We were warned that big data is a cyber security issue and, although progress is being made, the smart city is becoming something far more ambitious than data alone will achieve.
Smart Cities is a key topic at the IDTechEx IOT Applications event in Berlin from 10-11th April. The event features in depth presentations covering case studies of smart city implementations in addition to showcasing the range of enabling technologies from low power communications to sensors.