What will our cities look like in the future? From smart traffic guidance systems to autonomously driving buses and a sustainable energy supply – Smart Cities can significantly improve urban life.
While around 55 per cent of the global population lived in cities in 2018, their number is expected to have grown approximately to two thirds (68 per cent) by 2050. With increasing urbanisation “Smart Cities” offer many benefits.
What defines a Smart City?
Efficient, networked systems for mobility, energy, environmental protection and communication make living together in a city more sustainable and increase the quality of life. This is how Prof. Dr. Chirine Etezadadeh, head SmartCity.institute, Germany explains it: “We are already experiencing our need for action every day. Too crowded roads, poor air, far distances to go, slow internet, dead spots, housing shortage - the list could easily be continued. Digitalisation can help us find solutions.”
Flowing traffic and sustainable mobility concepts
Smart guidance systems, for example, improve the traffic situation in many metropolises. For this purpose, so-called detection cameras are placed within the city. They record the traffic flow via thermal images and a software analyses if any traffic jams are forming. Varying the traffic light intervals or offering drivers alternative routes via digital display panels results in fewer traffic jams.
According to studies, every driver wastes around 100 hours a year looking for a parking space - which in total causes a third of the traffic in the city centres. In a Smart City, the nerve-racking search for a parking space is a thing of the past. Optical sensors on poles identify parking spaces and send the data to monitors of a parking guidance system or to an app. Free spaces are indicated as green dots- drivers can navigate directly to parking spaces. In Dubai, 1100 parking spaces have already been equipped with parking guidance systems. There are also projects in the Dutch city of Rotterdam and in Chicago in the USA.
Car sharing also relieves traffic congestion. In the streets, rental scooters, cars and bicycles are available. Apps, that allow several passengers with a similar destination to share a cab, are already a reality in many cities. Sharing providers are also increasingly relying on electric drives. All cars of the Deutsche Bahn subsidiary CleverShuttle are powered, for example, by electricity or hydrogen. In the future, autonomous electric buses can also relieve the local public transport. The Finnish capital Helsinki, for example, already has a “Robobus" line in its Kivikko district. The buses move with the help of sensors and stop early if there is an obstacle on the road.
Safe and cleaner – Smart City concept increases quality of life
According to the World Bank, a growing population and an increasing urbanisation will cause the amount of waste to continue to rise worldwide in the coming years - by 70 per cent from 2.01 billion to 3.4 billion tons by 2050. To cope with the amount of waste, the city of Hamburg in Germany uses high-tech dustbins. Almost 120 litres of waste fit into the bin called “Big Belly”. A compactor squeezes the waste to one-seventh of its original volume. A solar module integrated in the lid provides the energy for this. As soon as a bin is full, it sends an email to the municipal waste management company or asks to be emptied via app.
Great potential for metropolises in developing countries
Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in India and Head of the Smart City Mission, likes to explain the concept in one simple sentence: “A Smart City is a city that works." That is what it is all about. Particularly in India the introduction of intelligent systems could significantly improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas plagued by environmental pollution and poor infrastructure, Kumar said. The idea: Sensors across the city measure and analyse air quality and report excessive pollution levels. Cameras scan buildings preventively and make thermal images to detect fires, for instance. Sensors measure and report strong winds and floods. The supply of water could also be significantly improved. Sensors detect leaks, blockages or other issues within the water network and automatically report them to the utility company.
Energy efficiency by means of smart grids and decentralised energy supply
If a lot of energy is used in a large city at the same time, there are always load peaks. Digital structures help to reduce these load peaks: Energy consumers are automatically switched off at these times. For example, “smart washing machines” can be programmed to start at a time when there is no peak load. Some energy providers already offer cheaper electricity at times when there is a lot of energy in the grid - regardless of a fixed time of day. Houses equipped with an intelligent meter, the so-called Smart Meter, control domestic appliances according to their energy consumption. Singapore, one of the world’s Smartest Cities, will equip more than 1.4 million households with smart meters by 2024.
Lighting is also a vital factor for a city’s energy efficiency. Cities that have adopted LED lightning can use a software to turn on, dim or switch off street lights as needed in entire districts or just individual streets. Technical progress goes even further: For example, individual street lamps can be equipped with motion sensors. They increase the brightness when a car or a pedestrian is passing by. And when nobody is on the street, they dim the light. Ludwigsburg, for example, is using 23 smart street lamps. Safe, energy-saving and easy to implement - that is exactly what a Smart City is about. With such a variety in concepts it reduces environmental pollution and traffic and at the end of the day it will improve life quality and safety.