Smart! The new buzz word for urban development in the 21st century. Smart cities, smart communities, smart society. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the industrial revolution created the wealth to build roads and railways that brought people closer together. 150 years later mobile communications meant that people didn’t need to be, well, mobile anymore. And now in 2015 we’re already well into the next phase of (im)mobility with the latest generation of smart phones and tablets connecting to a myriad of electronic services allowing us to run our lives from the palm of our hand, literally.
But to the more enlightened amongst you, this already seems like old news. Now, newly emerging technologies are turning cities from Tokyo to Toronto into vibrant electronic ethers where the most mundane or the most complex of tasks can be accomplished in just a few seconds. Shopping? Energy? Transport? Education? It’s all at our fingertips thanks to the innovative genius of a rapidly expanding community of smart city gurus.
“The Internet of Things” – a simple enough sounding phrase – is turning previously inanimate objects into living, speaking entities. By embedding objects (up to 50 billion by 2020), people and even animals with sensors that communicate information via wired or wireless systems, such as RFID, Wi-Fi or 3G, we can reduce noise pollution in our streets, manage the power and lighting in our homes and offices when we’re not there, and find a parking space at peak times. Smart pacemakers can enable a clinic in California to call a patient in Qatar and tell them to sit down because their heart has just experienced a minor event, even if the patient didn’t feel a thing!
Advances in cloud computing have enabled smart communities to expand due to their capacity to store and process the vast amounts of data they generate relatively cheaply, making it available to anyone; individuals, small businesses, local authorities or government departments. As cloud computing services become more trusted, they will reduce the levels of finance required to fund new applications, driving a wave of innovation through our cities and society.
As more data churns out of the Internet of Things, we will see new and more sophisticated analytics, which will encourage innovation in controlling events based on real-time data. Business intelligence systems will detect patterns, predict trends and extract relevant information from massive amounts of data. Indeed, “big data” are flooding in at rates never seen before – doubling every 18 months – and as the means for analyzing and processing this information become cheaper, companies will be able to identify new business opportunities and markets, further driving innovation.
But while smart energy, smart buildings, smart transport or smart governance are the building blocks upon which our 21st century communities are being raised,
we should never lose sight of the ultimate aim of all this smartness: smart lives!