How complex can the interactions of smart city applications get?

The number of smart city applications are endless
Photo by CC user Regiars on Wikimedia Commons

Recent years have seen the widespread use of a myriad of new terminologies, jargon and acronyms. The Internet of Things, stylised as IoT is probably one of the best known and least understood by the general public. What does it mean? The answer probably depends heavily on who you ask. One area of IoT research and development that has a somewhat clearer outlook and purpose is its use as far as smart city applications go.

According to Wikipedia, “a smart city is an urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) and IoT solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets.” A city’s assets may include transportation and telecom infrastructure, public services, utilities, waste management, law enforcement, security and other community services. The purpose of the smart city is to improve the quality of life of its citizens and make it competitive at a regional, national and international level.

The key to building a successful smart city, however, is the ICT that interconnects citizens, municipal leaders, infrastructures and systems so that they function in a complementary manner rather than in isolation. What does this mean exactly? Let’s look at a single smart city application such as smart street lighting and see how it interconnects with several other entities within the city.

Smart street lighting, for example, will not only adjust according to time of day, but also based on ambient light and on the number of pedestrians in the vicinity. Streetlights will be equipped with an array of devices that will provide multiple services. Free or paid Wi-Fi service will be made available to people in the area. It will also accumulate data concerning weather patterns, its own power consumption over time, pedestrian and vehicle traffic trends and Internet usage. This accumulated data will be sent in real time to the municipal government for several uses such as adjusting traffic lights to serve the traffic more efficiently and designing future infrastructure projects to take all of this behaviour into account. The data will also be made available to mobile phone app developers as open data for the private development of apps that will benefit the city. It will also be interconnected with the smart parking system to detect if parking spots are available or not.

In order for such applications to be successfully deployed, it is also important that they have a long life cycle. This is why certifications of devices and infrastructure are necessary to ensure reliable and secure long term functionality. The LoRa wireless wide area networks for IoT is an example of an IoT specific standard that is well suited to such applications, is expected to have a long life cycle and is quickly gaining popularity.

The life expectancy of smart city applications also depend heavily on the support infrastructure they require to function. These infrastructures are often based on more conventional technologies such as mains power. The use of cabling standards such as BS5467 for example, ensures that mains cabling installed underground or outdoors will be provided with the required protection afforded by their armour and the UV stable and water resistant nature of their sheathing.

This is just a small example of how smart city applications interconnect with each other and with more conventional technologies in a complex weave which, if implemented correctly and reliably, can create a fabric that will truly add quality to citizens’ lives and value to a city’s assets.