When you hear the term “Smart Cities,” you might picture popular sci-fi films like Blade Runner or Minority Report. While rapid technological advancements have yet to give us commercial flying cars, we’re able to access dozens of transportation methods with our smartphones – all while gaining access to those phones using facial scanning and authentication technology. We’re living in a reality that was once the imagination of talented screenwriters.
As we move closer to these futuristic cities with seemingly unfathomable simplicity, the demand for smart technology development and IT problem-solving only continues to grow. Although the number of developers and innovators tackling Smart City innovations is increasing, there still remains a series of problems all developers face at some point or another in their solutions.
Here are some of the common challenges facing Smart City solutions today, and how developers can begin to address these barriers to success.
Challenge #1: Infrastructure
Smart Cities utilize sensor technology to gather and analyze information in an effort to improve the quality of life for residents. Sensors collect data on everything from rush hour stats to crime rates to overall air quality.
Complicated and costly infrastructure is involved in installing and maintaining these sensors. How will they be powered? Will it involve hard-wiring, solar energy, or battery operation? Or, in case of power failure, perhaps a combination of all three?
Major metropolitan areas are already challenged with replacing decades-old infrastructure, such as underground wiring, steam pipes, and transportation tunnels, as well as installing high-speed internet. Broadband wireless service is increasing, but there are still areas in major cities where access is limited.
Funding for new infrastructure projects is limited and approval processes can take years. Installing new sensors and other improvements cause temporary – though still frustrating – problems for people living in these cities.
Developers can help make it easier to install and utilize smart technology by considering these challenges at the very early stages of development. By beginning with the end in mind – which is the full implementation of the solution – developers and tech companies can speed up the process of making our cities smarter by implementing easy-to-install hardware.
As an example, the City of Oshawa, in association with key stakeholders, has entered Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge aimed at developing smart city solutions that draw attention to local problems. Using data and connected technologies, the main goal is to collaborate with residents, businesses, and academic and civic organizations to identify common problems and create innovative projects that solve their most pressing challenges.
Challenge #2: Security and Hackers
As IoT and sensor technology use expands, so does the threat level to security. This begs the question…is technology really considered “smart” if hackers can break into it and shut down an entire city?
Recent discussion involving cyber-terror threats to vulnerable and outdated power grids has everyone a bit more concerned and skeptical about technology and security.
Smart Cities are investing more money and resources into security, while tech companies are creating solutions with new built-in mechanisms to protect against hacking and cyber-crimes. With blockchain being the topic du jour in the tech industry, many developers are looking for ways to incorporate these encryption techniques to increase security in new applications.
Challenge #3: Privacy Concerns
In any major city, there’s a balance between quality of life and invasion of privacy. While everyone wants to enjoy a more convenient, peaceful, and healthy environment, nobody wants to feel like they are constantly being monitored by “Big Brother.”
Cameras installed on every street corner may help deter crime, but they can also install fear and paranoia in law-abiding citizens. Another valid concern is the amount of data being collected from all the smart sensors residents come into contact with each day.
Last year, the ACLU of Northern California did a study about privacy concerns in smart cities. In it, the organization stresses the importance of understanding the technology, identifying the types and sources of data it uses, and determining what will be done with the data collected.
Developers can help alleviate some of the anxieties of smart city residents by adding transparency and education to their solutions. By developing with the community in mind and considering how they might respond to new technology, companies can gain trust from the people their solutions are intended to help. Of course, local government officials and community boards need to be involved in the rollout and educational aspects as well.
Challenge #4: Educating & Engaging the Community
For a Smart City to truly exist and thrive, it needs “smart” citizens who are engaged and actively taking advantage of new technologies. With any new city-wide tech project, part of the implementation process must involve educating the community on its benefits. This can be done through a series of in-person town hall-style meetings and email campaigns with voter registration, as well as an online education platform that keeps citizens engaged and up-to-date.
When a community feels like it’s playing a part in the overall decisions that affect daily life, and is being communicated to in a clear and thoughtful manner, it’s more apt to use the technology and encourage others to use it as well. This is key to a Smart City’s success.
For instance, Lyon, France has launched almost a hundred projects to improve city life, such as smart power grids, citizen empowerment, and better air quality. The city is collaborating with residents, entrepreneurs, large corporations and startups to create a ‘city of tomorrow.’
Challenge #5: Being Socially Inclusive
Smart transit programs that give riders real-time updates are a great idea for a bustling city. But what if half the population of that city can’t afford to take mass transit or Uber? What about a growing elderly population that doesn’t use mobile devices or apps? How will smart technology reach and benefit these groups of people?
It’s vital that Smart City planning involves the consideration of all groups of people, not just the affluent and technologically advanced. Technology should always be working to bring people together, rather than divide them further based on income or education levels. Thinking of these communities, in conjunction with the other problems addressed in this article, will promote the overall success of a solution beyond the realm of tech-savvy users.
While most everyone can agree that smart technology has the power to make our lives much simpler – especially in highly populated urban areas – implementing that technology must be done in a carefully planned and highly secure manner. Rather than just focusing on what the solution can do, developers and tech companies must also consider how it will affect the people that come into contact with it.
When technology, city governance, and communities of people come together to improve the quality of life for everyone involved, that’s when a city truly becomes “smart.”
About the Author
Sydney Stone is a freelance writer and editor who has written many pieces for various startup and B2B technology companies. Currently, Sydney is also writing for iTechArt, an NYC-based software development company.