The Internet Of Things, or IoT, is certainly the hot topic in the world of technology at the moment, with predictions that there will be a jump of one billion to five billion Internet-connected devices over the next couple of years (http://recode.net/2015/02/25/heres-a-thing-to-help-put-things-on-the-internet-of-things/). This is obviously going to have a big impact on the home, as individuals and households start leveraging the Internet to enhance their lifestyles. Equally, though, is the currently untapped potential for the IoT to start revolutionising how cities themselves work.
Some of the more forward thinking cities are starting to look at the opportunities presented by connected Internet devices. New York City, for example, is planning to start collecting real time data on everything from foot traffic to energy use and waste production, that data in turn will help drive a more efficient, ecologically-friendly city. On the other side of the US, Los Angeles is tackling its traffic congestion issues by synchronising the traffic lights across the city. Last year in Europe, delivery drones became a reality in Germany, and are sure to spread across the world as individual nations and cities are able to work through the regulatory concerns that come with them (http://www.livescience.com/48032-dhl-drone-delivery-service.html).
Another example of how the IoT will change the way cities run can be seen with automated vehicles, which will slowly become commonplace. The enhanced safety of these vehicles will mean that road lanes can be shrunk down safely, that will provide a city with valuable real estate it can use to add a bike lane or similar, making for safer crossing for pedestrians thanks to the shorter distance across the road.
Buildings, too, will become smarter, with interior designers making use of sensors to enhance efficiency in collecting data on what is happening in the building, thus allowing the resident to adjust behaviour to be more energy efficient. Those sensors and they data they collect could also prove invaluable in the event of a disaster in helping inform the city’s emergency response and saving lives in the process.
Buildings will also be increasingly reliant on renewable energy, and sensors will be used here as well to help ensure a continuous flow of energy through the building, or even the sharing of material across multiple buildings. Smart grids are an inevitability as people realise the need to improve power efficiency and sustainability.
Of course, there will be challenges that need to be overcome as the smart city becomes a reality. Live Free or Die Hard is a nonsense action film, but the threat of a cyber-criminal being able to bring a smart city to its heels by hacking into it is real, and the security investment for such a large scale deployment of technology would be significant.
Privacy will be another concern, and many people will baulk at the idea of the city, or any other third party, having access to such sensitive data. Privacy laws are struggling to keep up with the kind of data use that the IoT demands, and this is something that will need to be nutted out as more and more uses for sensors are discovered, to prevent public scepticism creating resistance to the technologies.