Smart Cities: the contribution of AI and IoT to the cities of the future

The future is exciting. Especially if we live in the technological future of a smart city. Still, the main questions remain: what is, actually, a smart city? What will such a city look like in 2020 and beyond?

The United Nations (UN) estimates that the global population will reach 9.8 billion people in 2050. 70% of this number will be urban. So, something needs to be done fast to accommodate this growing population. That’s why the smart city concept is becoming more and more topical nowadays.

There have been many attempts to define a smart city. The most popular one: a smart city is a municipality that uses information and communication technologies (ICT) to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare. Key examples of this are the cities such as Singapore, London and New York, which implement a range of services improving overall quality of city life, such as: smart parking, traffic monitoring systems, smart street lighting, etc.

But the ultimate purpose of the smart city concept will go beyond such modest initiatives as free Wi-Fi on public transportation, traffic calming and making doctor’s appointments online. The smart city of the future will be a complex, interconnected network of autonomous vehicles, smart buildings and data-driven infrastructure.

So the following question appears: what are the main features of smart cities?

1. Livability

A city with high livability would be one with healthy living conditions, little pollution and instant access to services. All this is enabled by a ‘smart’ city infrastructure. While various technologies make up this infrastructure, they share the same goals of improving living conditions and making cities more sustainable and competitive.

A technology that is aiding their mission is artificial intelligence. AI equips machines and computers with the ability to see, listen, move and think. It not only enables autonomous monitoring, but it also allows decision making based on how the various elements of urban life behave, change over time and respond to the city system. To put it simply, AI can assist urban planner to plan better for their cities. It can do this by allowing planners to know how cities are being used and how they are functioning.

This quality of AI is already encouraging many city planners to use AI to minimize traffic congestion and parking management. In the future, AI could be used for even more factors that affect livability in a city.

2. Workability

Another aspect of cities that can be improved with the use of artificial intelligence is workability. This is the infrastructure enabled to allow the city to compete on a global scale for work and jobs.

The widespread provision of personalized digital services is a major step towards improving the workability of a city and realizing the smart city concept.

3. Sustainability

One of the most important qualities of a smart city is sustainability. It includes, but is not limited to, improved educational opportunities, better healthcare, and improved infrastructure and services.

AI can make inadequate urban planning a thing of the past. By providing intelligent insights, AI can allow city planners to allocate resources more efficiently as well as improve the sharing and management of data and information across systems.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, AI can help to low emissions by up to 15%, minimize water consumption by up to 30% and reduce the average time to commute by up to 20%.
So, as we see, there are two key enablers of the smart city: internet of things and artificial intelligence.

IoT allows cities to gain intelligent insights from connected devices or sensors. With these insights, cities can reduce pollution levels, minimize traffic congestions, or drive the success of city initiatives. AI, on the other hand, makes use of smart algorithms to help automate and improve many activities and operations of a municipality.

But what is that makes a city ‘smart’?

Let’s have a look at some of the most popular use cases that have already been implemented in smart cities across the world.

1. Smart parking

AI can improve parking management in cities by providing authorities data regarding the availability or unavailability of parking spots. It can do this by collecting data from the drivers’ smartphones and sensors embedded in the ground. Once AI has gathered this data, it can process it for providing actionable insights and real-time parking map. An example of smart parking enabled by AI – The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SAFTA) implemented SFpark a smart parking system. They use wireless sensors to detect real time parking space occupancy in metered spaces. Since launched, SFpark has reduced weekday greenhouse gas emissions by 25%, the traffic volume has gone down, and drivers’ search time has reduced by 50%.

2. Waste management

With AI working in tandem with IoT, it becomes easier for city authorities to monitor waste levels remotely. Additionally, AI can help optimize waste management in cities by providing urban planners and authorities with operational and route optimization analytics. The best example of the country, which shows tremendous results, is Sweden. Less than 1% of Sweden’s household waste ends up in landfills. Of the 4.4 million tons of household waste produced by the nation every year, 2.2 million are converted into energy by a process called waste-to-energy (WTE). In fact, the Scandinavian country has become so good at waste management that it imports nearly 800,000 tons of waste from countries like the UK, Norway, Italy and Ireland to feed its 32 WTE plants.

By not wasting its waste and recycling 99% of it, Sweden is on its way to achieving zero waste and sustainable energy by 2020.

3. Public safety

By enabling real-time monitoring, analytics, and decision-making, artificial intelligence can help public safety in cities. For example, law enforcement agencies in several U.S states are using predictive policing to combat gang violence. The technology is also used for parole recommendations and crime prevention.

4. Road traffic

One of the biggest challenges facing many cities today is road traffic. A major objective of a smart city is to allow people to get from one part of the city to another safely and as quickly as possible. To achieve this, cities are turning to the use of IoT and AI-enable traffic solutions. An example of this is the use of adaptive signal control in several U.S cities including Pittsburgh, San Antonio, and Los Angeles. This involves the use of artificial intelligence to adjust the flow of traffic by changing the timing on traffic lights. Also, it has helped to reduce travel times by more than ten percent in several cities.

5. Water and power

By giving them more control over utilities, AI helps cities to minimize costs. It becomes possible to streamline the use of water and power in a city. For example, Chattanooga in Tennessee is using smart grid technology to manage better the use of power. Additionally, AI is being used in water metering to locate leaks and prevent the excess use of water.

So to sum up all the mentioned above: as smart technology continues to improve and urban centers expand, both will become interconnected. The potential to improve several aspects of public service systems and the quality of life in particular has driven the demand for smart cities. By taking a step towards the future, we will improve not only how we interact with our general environment but how cities interact with us, ensuring that we receive the best quality options and waste fewer resources.

What is more, it is in the interest of cities to welcome AI solutions with open arms. Not only should cities embrace AI technology, but they should also take measures to accommodate them within the many functions that make a municipality. Once that happens, it will only be a matter of time before the smart city concept is completely realized.

What do you think about the contribution of AI and IoT to the future of smart cities?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.