Predictions for the Coming Year: Smart Cities

Stephen DeAngelis

January 10, 2014

Aaron Stern reports, “The number of people living in cities worldwide more than doubled between 1950 and 2010, meaning that more than half (50.6 percent) of the world’s population are now city dwellers. That trend will continue in the coming century: The United Nations [predicts] that by 2050, 68 percent of the people on earth will reside in cities. That proportion is even greater in the U.S., where 82 percent of Americans presently reside in cities. By 2030, that figure is projected to rise to 87 percent.” [“The Future of Smart Homes, Smart Cities,” CE Pro, 23 January 2013] With over half of the world’s population now living in urban areas, working to make cities more livable and sustainable is a global imperative. Anna Rudenko believes that we are making progress in that direction. “Cities are gradually evolving into more personalized spaces,” she writes, “allowing citizens to organize their life in the most sustainable way. [“What a smart city of the future will look like? Learn 7 trends in urban living for 2014,” Popsop, 18 December 2013] She continues:

“Originally being areas for masses, cities are shifting towards focusing on individuals — their intellectual and physical needs, their passions, social and environmental views and aspirations. Within the past year, there have been two major trends in re-arranging urban life: on the one hand, cities tend to be eco-friendly and more comfortable; on the other hand, the urban environment integrates technology for communal living, thus gets more tech-oriented and somewhat futuristic.”

Navigant Research predicts that over the next four decades the pursuit of better urban living conditions will drive huge investments in infrastructure and new technologies. “Trillions of dollars will be spent on urban infrastructure in this period,” the company asserts, “presenting an immense opportunity for new transport management systems, smart grids, water monitoring systems, and energy efficient buildings. Information and communication technologies will be deeply embedded in the fabric of both old and new cities and will change the way we think of city operations and how we live and work in these environments.” [“Smart Cities,” First Quarter 2013] Tyler Falk reports, “According to a new report from Marketsandmarkets, a marketing research company, the global smart cities market is expected to top $1 trillion by 2016. Currently, the report estimates the value of the smart cities market at $526.3 billion, with a compound annual growth rate of about 14.2 percent from 2011-2016.” [“Smart cities market worth $1 trillion by 2016,” Smart Planet, 14 May 2012] The report asserts that technologies will be pursued in the following segments:

 

  • Smart homes: The smart home market is further bifuricated by products as Security, HVAC, Lighting, Entertainment, Energy Management and Home Health. Whereas the service market is discussed by installation and customization/refurb. There is also an in-depth study of smart home technologies.
  • Smart building: Smart building automation technologies are classified on the basis of systems, services and information technologies.
  • Smart energy management: Smart energy management is classified by product to Smart Grid, which is further bifurcated by component type to Smart Meter, Software & Hardware, Sensors, Communication Network.
  • Smart industrial automation: Smart industrial automation is classified by product types to Industrial Control Systems, Field Devices, Manufacturing Execution Systems and Enterprise Resource Planning. The Smart industrial automation market is also discussed by application in various industry verticals.
  • Smart citizen services: Smart citizen services is mainly segmented to smart healthcare, education and water management.
  • Smart transport: Smart transportation market is extensively classified by components to traffic management systems, integrated supervision market, passenger information, ticketing and parking management.
  • Smart security: Smart security solution market for smart cities is segmented into urban security, critical infrastructure protection, ID management and cyber security.

 

Freshome has identified twenty technologies that it believes cities will have to embrace if they are to survive in the years ahead. [“20 Smart City Technologies for 2013 and Beyond,” 1 May 2013]. They are:

 

1. Fuel cell technology
2. Space saving folding vehicles
3. Solar energy
4. Smart thermostats
5. Wireless charging
6. Water recycling and conservation
7. Near Field Communication (NFC)
8. LED Lighting
9. Vertical farming
10. Parking analysis
11. Charging infrastructure for vehicles
12. Facial recognition security surveillance
13. Transportation sensors
14. Home automation
15. Peak usage levels and smart meters
16. Healthcare technology
17. Language barrier breakdown
18. High-tech bike sharing
19. Urban wind turbines
20. Tintable smart glass

 

Anna Rudenko provides her own list of “vibrant trends in urban living that will gain momentum in 2014.” Some of her predictions are about urban living and others are about the larger urban environment. For example, her first prediction is about how urban residents may try to obtain more living space.

Expanded interiors revolutionize homes. Along with the opportunity to expand — from the professional and creative points of view — cities also make its dwellers ‘shrink’ — in terms of living space. In megalopolises, most people buy or rent smaller apartments compar[ed] to the ones they would have in towns and villages, so they need smarter solutions to store goods and arrange furniture to accommodate various occasions. Nowadays, our homes can ‘breath[e],’ deliver essential purification, help cook, etc.”

Among the innovations that Rudenko believes will help create more living space for urban dwellers are new types of furniture (e.g., pop-up and mirror) and apartment/home restructuring. She predicts:

“The interior and exterior designs of the houses will revolutionize dramatically over the next few years with the launch of affordable 3D-printers. Most probably, furniture retailers, like IKEA, will make a step from selling pieces to be assembled at home to selling materials and files for producing pieces in 3D-printing machines on spot. We may probably get smarter adaptive sofas, moving ceilings and noise-absorbing blinds and wallpapers.”

Rudenko’s next prediction involves the Internet of Things (IoT). “Home objects,” she predicts, “ranging from coffee tables to window panes, are likely to feature digital sensors, connected with desktops and tablets to add new functions to ordinary things.” Among the domestic activities she sees as benefitting from smart technology are: cooking, safety, security, and energy consumption. She predicts:

“Modern homes are getting more connected and enhanced with technology. There will be chairs that measure weight and send diet recommendations, scanners that detect freshness of the food, and more.”

Rudenko believes that even though people may live in the city, they have a desire to stay in touch with nature. By growing plants and raising food, she believes urban dwellers can tame nature amid urban jungles. “We’re entering the era of letting more nature into our lives with the help of technology,” she writes. “Home and on-building gardens, smart tiny farms, solar panels — this all is gaining momentum now.” She discusses the use of solar panels mounted to windows as well as mini-farms and floating gardens. She predicts:

“Sustainable cities let the nature in. Home gardening and growing food at home will allow people to reconnect with nature and cut down expenses on food. Solar panels will be as ubiquitous as electric devices. Each empty space will get its permanent or pop-up gardens on the walls, beneath the ground, between floors — to purify the environment and make it feel more natural.”

Her next prediction involves the transformation of outdoor urban furniture. “Streets are gradually unlocking big potential for expressing thoughts and channeling innovative ideas,” she writes. “With the popularity of pop-up street venues, multifunctional city-furniture or urban micro-gardens, the outdoor public environment is getting more comfortable, smarter and better organized.” She discusses the emergence of charging stations for phones, tablets, and cars as well as sustainable urban furniture. She predicts:

“The city of the future will probably feature charging stations embedded in signs, bus shelters, walls and phone booths. There will also be smart bins that automatically sort waste, compress and even recycle it on the initial stage.”

Her next prediction deals with how we will illuminate cities in the years ahead. She writes, “Energy-consuming city lighting is getting more sustainable with the use of renewable energy sources.” She talks about using non-traditional illumination sources like “glowing” trees, solar power, and motion-activated lighting. She predicts:

“The most promising trend here is the accumulating solar power to use it in the illumination systems — most of city lights of the future are sure to be based on this approach. Lights will also become smarter and glow bright only when an object, moving along the path, is detected — to save energy and ensure safety.”

Rudenko’s next prediction deals with how we will make cities more interesting and fun. She asserts, “With so many travel apps available today, city exploration turns into an engaging and benefitting experience. Developers are creating more ways to reward people for getting around the town, especially on foot, and unlocking new spaces.” She notes that even simple signage indicating how far certain locations are can encourage people to leave their vehicles and walk. She also discusses how the use of creative maps and gamification can be used to make cities more inviting. I’m assuming that virtual enhancement will also play a role in making cities more interesting to explore. She predicts:

“With so many technologies shaping cities now, they turn into real wonderlands offering immersive and engaging experiences. Walkability of urban areas will be one of the top priorities for city planning in the coming years.”

Her final prediction deals with making cities more resilient. “Tomorrow’s cities are to be improved not only with ergonomics and comfort in mind, they also must be disaster-proof,” she writes. “It comes down to constructing buildings resistant to natural disasters and smart urban planning, however, there are less complicated but still valuable smaller solutions to this problem.” She discusses methods of reestablishing communications networks following natural disasters, the availability of temporary housing as well as better urban disaster planning. She predicts:

“To survive in natural disasters, cities will have to develop new ways of energy sourcing and distribution, to enhance draining systems and create purification systems for contaminated air, water or soil. The concepts of cheap modular homes for hurricane or earthquake victims will be developing in the coming years. They will focus on autonomous small dwelling units that have all the essentials a person may need during several weeks. Devices that purify, clean, 3D-print and restore things within this space will be a must.”

Not all of Rudenko’s predictions rely on establishing resilient urban networks, but many of them do. One of the most discussed networks is the electrical grid. Eco-Business asserts, “Smart grids are here to stay, with the global smart grid market expected to surpass US$400 billion worldwide by 2020.” [“Future cities: the rise and rise of smart grids,” 18 December 2013] One of the biggest questions surrounding the future of smart cities is whether progress will led by governments or by the private sector. The best case scenario, of course, is that progress moves forward on the shoulders of public/private partnerships. Back in 2010, John Geraci predicted that many of the innovations discussed above are going to be “built and used whether the cities want them or not.” [“The Future of Our Cities: Open, Crowdsourced, and Participatory,” Crowdsourcing, 26 August 2010] He continued:

“Imagine now what would happen if cities did throw their weight behind this kind of innovation? The landscape of those cities would change virtually overnight, with legions of new applications springing up to provide residents with every sort of information conceivable, making their decisions more informed, making their movements more coordinated, and ultimately making the cities themselves work better. This change would happen at a fraction of the cost of any proposals for change currently being considered by cities around the world. And much of that cost, for development and operation, would be offloaded from the city itself to the individuals building and using these services. This is the future that is coming to our cities, one way or another, whether city councils and agencies accept it right now or not. Either it will come in a trickle, as interested developers find ways to build these services without the city’s consent, or it will come in a flood as cities get on board and help push things along. I personally am hoping for the latter.”

Although exciting things are happening in the field of smart city technologies and programs, by their very nature, established cities change slowly. So-called greenfield cities may be able to adapt technologies much more rapidly than brownfield cities; but, the one thing that could help cities transform quicker is the creation of lightning fast networks connecting both people and things.