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How technology can make cities smarter and safer

December 14, 2015



As we close out the year, let’s look at what might await in 2016.

The concept of smart cities, supported by the Internet of Things, is likely to become more of a reality in the coming year.

What is the Internet of Things? An all-pervasive technology in which everyday objects from roadside cameras to street lights, have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.

Smart cities, a concept that has been around for a decade or more, has been slowly gaining acceptance in how we run our communities.  It essentially involves managing city operations with high-tech intelligence to optimize performance. That intelligence comes from the Internet of Things. Putting all this data to productive use for our cities means running it through interconnected data management computer applications owned and operated by governmental and private organizations.

Smart cities are likely to become more of a reality for security.

Safer cities

With the recent violence in Paris, and now San Bernadino, it becomes increasingly important to have top-notch security systems in place. Here are some smart cities applications with which I have worked in my career:

  • Chicago and other cities have “smart surveillance,” which not only can capture license plate numbers and recognize faces, but can even interpret a person’s facial expression.

  • New York and other cities have interconnected their surveillance systems with those operated by school districts and even private property owners.

  • Los Angeles and other cities have “ShotSpotter” systems that monitor acoustics on the street to pinpoint exactly where a firearm has been discharged.

Managing resources

Sustainability will become an even more important issue in 2016.  And, once again, many smart city applications can significantly improve  the sustainability of our communities, in at least two areas: energy utilization and water management.  The following are some of the smart cities applications with which I am familiar:

  • Many cities have implemented energy monitoring and reporting systems in public buildings that are activated remotely or automatically to reduce power consumption.

  • Many water districts have remote sensing devices in water distribution systems to deliver the correct amount to meet dynamic demand.

Other improvements to city life

There are a whole range of other applications of the Internet of Things which, while not falling in either of these categories, can improve communities.  Here are four examples:

  • Las Vegas has a remote acoustics monitoring system on the massive water mains under Las Vegas Boulevard to provide an early warning system for potential pipe failures.

  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and others have a series of systems in public parking garages to inform motorists how many open parking spaces are on each level.

  • London and other cities have congestion pricing systems that charge fees when motorists enter central city locations during peak traffic periods, thereby reducing traffic congestion.

  • The digital displays on our Valley freeways advising of estimated travel times are a form of “queue management,” an application probably first implemented at Walt Disney theme parks.

In the year ahead, let’s maximize the benefits of these types of smart cities applications to improve life in our communities.

AZ Central