Optimizing smart urban infrastructure

The need for urban mobility and its potential have never been greater.

Urban planning gone digital

Less than two decades ago, urban planning touched mostly on building planning, architecture, public infrastructure and services for towns, cities, communes and municipalities. Once the digital revolution came along, urban planning started gradually transforming and now encompasses decisions related to internet connectivity, rich data exchange and management, AI, IoT-enabled devices and systems, digital advertising, video surveillance and analytics. In the next few years urban planning will be tasked with not only accommodating but also enabling practical systems that support technological concepts like self-driving cars, delivery drones, facial recognition, video analytics, contactless payments, and more.

Meeting the demands of tomorrow

Traditionally, urban planning revolved mostly around massive, periodic projects delivered at once and completed in between large intervals of time. The field started evolving as the need for infrastructure repairs, improvements, and updates became constant. The old model is now, more than ever, being flipped on its head.

As technologies advance, so does demand for smart cities and smart infrastructure. 4G, contactless transactions, autonomous vehicles, connected devices (IoT), AI, blockchain and smart contract-enabled systems are opening new possibilities for the outlook of cities. The re-urbanization of cities and their digital transformation creates large opportunities for tech giants vs. the traditional utility or infrastructure organizations, shifting the paradigm entirely. It comes as no surprise that corporations like Microsoft, Google and Facebook are all scrambling to entice local governments with innovative solutions and services that promise to make cities and urban areas more prosperous, secure, and sustainable.

Technology solving urban challenges

Large cities and urban areas house 55% of the world’s population and consume approximately 75% of global prime energy today. Despite geographical differences, they all have similar characteristics and challenges. Air pollution, traffic, lack of employment, overpopulation, lack of affordable or suitable housing and transportation, health and hygiene, security and safety, are among the common global issues that cities need to effectively solve in the coming years. Cutting edge technology provides opportunities to do this in innovative ways.

Virtually all devices (traffic lights, traffic and surveillance cameras, air pollution sensors, etc.) today can be connected to the internet. Once connected, the network of devices can enable cities to generate the rich data required to apply artificial intelligence (AI) and uncover actionable insights. By aggregating IoT and location data on the cloud, urban centers and administration agencies can tap into AI at global and local levels.

Urban vision for the future

The future of smart mobility is looking ever more promising as cities and urban leaders turn to digital transformation to solve some long-standing challenges, on top of emerging issues.

What if our traffic troubles could be solved by driverless, electric cars that eliminate pollution, traffic, and accidents altogether? Although autonomous vehicles are still far from perfect, the tech behind them is improving at a rapid pace and they are predicted to be on the streets en masse by 2020. National and local governments are already taking steps to ensure emissions in urban areas are reduced. Oslo does this by providing parking space in the city center exclusively for electric cars. Munich has introduced a special access vignette for the inner city, granted exclusively to low-emission vehicles.

What if urban crime could be practically eliminated by a perfectly orchestrated trifecta of facial recognition, video surveillance, and analytics? This is entirely plausible as this tech, too, becomes optimized and easier to apply to existing infrastructure.

Financial implications of tech-driven smart city planning

Not all urban centers have the financial means or resource infrastructure needed to benefit from tech innovations today. Going forward, cities must get not only ‘smarter,’ but also intelligent about how they raise funds for financing their urban digital transformations. Laws and taxation need to keep up with the changing needs of urban residents, ensuring there is sufficient funding to execute substantial new improvements that have the potential of significantly improving daily life.

Artificial intelligence is at the core of many futuristic urban advances, and we know that it is often associated with reductions in workforce size. Although this is a seemingly negative consequence of digitization, cities can offset it by carefully preparing for the upcoming shift and re-training public servants to ensure they have the skills needed to maintain smart cities.

Copywriter: Ina Danova

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