Smart cities are no longer the future, they are very much the present, with over 200 projects involving the creation of smart cities currently under way across the globe indicative of the impact it is having. From Singapore to Leeds, the use of technology to create a better urban environment is having profound impacts on the lives of people around the world.
However, we are only at the beginning of the journey and in order for smart cities to become widely accepted, we need to make sure we are laying the foundations effectively today.
This is about more than simply creating wifi hotspots and self driving cars, it is about utilizing the Internet of Things to create a networked city that allows for the free communication of data. Essentially, the success of smart cities will come down to the effective use of both open data and the Internet of Things.
The two approaches are interconnected and need to have a symbiotic relationship in order to gain maximum value from their implementation. It was something being discussed at a recent summit by Gavin Starks, who said 'Open sensors are building a new market to enable sensors to talk to each other and sensors to talk to businesses. So [startups] are wiring up the IoT.'
The combination of the IoT and open data creates situations where companies have the opportunity to help create smart cities, whilst also making money for themselves. It is best shown by Citymapper, who have used live open travel data to simply show somebody the best way to get from one location to another within a city. The concept is simple and the company is now worth over $250m after being founded in 2012.
With an increase in the number of devices talking to one another and the data they create and transmit being made more easily available, it may be that more companies can be created along the same lines. This would not only mean more successful companies in a city, but it would also increase the speed of infrastructure implementation, decrease the cost to local residents and also make better products and services as a result.
This is not a criticism of those working hard in local governments to push through these changes, but simply the fact that the majority of the world's best data scientists are in private companies. Glassdoor put the average wage of a Data Scientist in the US at $118,000, Salar.ly at $120,000, and PayScale at between $110-$150,000. The public sector cannot hope to pay these kinds of sums, especially given the amount of work and data scientists needed to utilize the potential from the IoT in smart city infrastructures.
Through creating an open data system where companies have access to data being created by sensors, they can then create products and services to supplement or optimize existing systems.
It is something that Starks also believes, and that this work should not simply be undertaken by one company, but instead many businesses will then be able to create more data and need to open it up - 'It simply isn't possible for single companies to anticipate all the future technology developments that will be needed. We predict adopters of closed systems will regret taking short-term gains at the expense of long-term gain.'
Data, the IoT, and the ability for companies to access information is going to be at the centre of everything good that happens in smart cities. However, in order to make the system work, the issue of data security also needs to be addressed. Alex Herceg, Lux Research analyst and author of Smart cities seek environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and convenient, livable spaces has looked at this and believes that a balance needs to be met. 'You will have those that say ‘I don’t want the city to have my data because it’s my data.’ There needs to a clear communication and understanding and agreement [between cities and individuals] so that the city can use data to provide better living conditions. That will be the crossover point.'
The security concerns surrounding data and access by private companies is likely to be the biggest single issue that will stall this process and therefore it is essential that governments create robust and transparent legislation to make sure this data is secured when stored and anonymized when open. If they get this key element it could destroy the whole thing before it even gets into full swing.