Say the phrase smart cities and you might think about some Orwellian dystopia similar to “1984.” And yet, we happily carry around smart phones, wear smart watches, etc. Smart cities is a concept bordering on science fiction.

Or is it?

At Seamgen, we love tech and innovation; in this post, we’ll give you a sneak peak at the futuristic smart cities already present in society.

From Sci-Fi to Reality

Science fiction has provided us with expectations for the future, such as flying cars and personal robots catering to our every whim. A common fantasy of the future, smart cities is not a new concept–just think about the Jetsons from the 1960s.

Similar to the evolution of AI, the development of smart cities has been gradual.  This post will discuss everything, from Obama’s “Smart Cities Initiative,” to smart infrastructure, to creating a more environmentally conscious future through technology.

smart cities jetsons

Smart Cities and Politics

For those living in tech hubs like San Francisco and Boston, subtle changes in infrastructure are making cities smarter. Before looking at the innovations these cities are undertaking, it is important to look at the politics behind it all.

In 2015, the Obama Administration set forward an initiative to propel the creation of smarter cities. The aptly named “Smart Cities” initiative is focused on using technology to improve community challenges such as crime and traffic congestion.

The core focus of the initiative is built around the Internet of Things (IoT) and civic tech. Combining government and IT to solve local problems, President Obama stated that:

“Every community is different, with different needs and different approaches.  But communities that are making the most progress on these issues have some things in common.  They don’t look for a single silver bullet; instead they bring together local government and nonprofits and businesses and teachers and parents around a shared goal.” – President Barack Obama

The increasing trend of IoT, along with IT advancements, led to this statement on smart cities, released by the White House:

“Communities that are building an infrastructure to continuously improve the collection, aggregation, and use of data to improve the life of their residents – by harnessing the growing data revolution, low-cost sensors, and research collaborations, and doing so securely to protect safety and privacy.”

Smart Cities Themselves

Infrastructure changes are the most prominent improvements in the growing trend of smart cities. All cities have infrastructure issues–think traffic–but smart cities are designed to change that. Smart cities offer improved data collection, creating more solutions for city officials.  Imagine a world where all city improvements are backed by millions of connected data points from smart infrastructure.

smart cities

An example of smart cities in action can be seen in Columbus, Ohio, the recent winner of the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. Winning $50 million to invest in smart infrastructure, the city put out a vision for the future, filled with self-driving electric cars and smarter traffic lights.

Utilizing smart city infrastructure, officials hope to transform the transportation service industry in the coming years, with ripple effects sure to affect housing and family lifestyles.

Federal funding is not the only method in which cities will upgrade themselves though. Big tech players are investing too, taking advantage of their resources.

Verizon has invested in a section of Boston, installing fiber networks and other data collection tools. The goal is to collect location-specific data to solve location-specific problems. Cameras, lighting control, and sensors collect information 24/7, such as parking frequency and biking frequency.

Verizon’s investment into this project reveals a major player in the new industry of smart city infrastructure. President-elect Donald Trump has previously stated his support for infrastructure investment, with $1 trillion allocated over 10 years. Verizon better act quickly, as Oracle and IBM are following in their footsteps.

smart cities red

Should you be Concerned?

While self-driving cars raise issues of trust, the smart city industry raises privacy issues. With the sensors and integrated networks, corporations could observe us and collect data on our daily patterns.

Even if the public is skeptical about these developments, smart cities’ environmental impact is enticing on its own.  Let’s look to Japan as an example.

Japan have a jump start on smarter cities with examples like Kashiwa-no-ha, a city near Tokyo. Utilizing energy management systems, the city cut peak power consumption by 26%, significantly lowering CO2 emissions. The Japanese hope to create smart cities with a 5-layer development plan, seen in the graphic below.

kashiwa smart cities

Thanks for Reading!

Congratulations on making it to the bottom of this post. The conversation doesn’t end here.  Continue to stay informed on smart cities and future development.

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