Cities are getting more crowded. Already, more than half the world’s population lives in urban areas and this number is expected to increase to two thirds by 2050. With pressure increasing on public services and infrastructure, cities have been looking for innovative, future-proofing solutions.
“Over centuries, cities evolve systems to support their population, which eventually merge into an interdependent ecosystem. But with so many processes reliant on one another, all it can take is one logistics issue to bring a crowded city to a standstill,” says Michelle Janse van Vuuren, Marketing Director Canon South Africa.
“Driven by rapid advancements in Internet of Things (IoT) technology, cloud computing and network connectivity, smart city projects are setting out to overcome these issues and make cities cleaner, more efficient and better coordinated.” Citing McKinsey, Janse van Vuuren says the average citizen in Paris spends four years of their life trying to find a parking space. In cities like Geneva, smart parking solutions use IoT to alert drivers of free spaces. Chicago is one of many cities replacing its street lights with intelligent controls which respond to the amount of people on the street, allowing governing bodies to save money on lighting empty streets. Meanwhile, smart waste management in the likes of Denmark and Sharjah is harnessing solar power and sensors to enable public bins to send alerts when they are full, and to reduce garbage trucks on the street.
“As we look at future development however, it’s clear there are a number of challenges. Aside from the internal politics and bureaucracy involved in such wide scale collaboration, security remains a major concern. The only way to realise the potential of smart cities is to have a robust system for data sharing between government, city planners, businesses providing solutions and developers. However, pooling of data from many sources makes it more difficult to ensure water-tight security. In addition, when breaches occur, cyber criminals have access to more sources of data through the interdependent network. One weak link in the security might open backdoor access to vital systems,” says Janse van Vuuren.
She believes that, apart from hardwiring security into the design, the most promising solutions on the horizon are AI-based. “These act like a digital immune system for the smart city organism. A digital immune system was traditionally a network service that analysed viruses, replicated them to characterise their behaviour and generated a cure automatically. Today’s digital immune system is based on Articifial Intelligence and is not only more sophisticated, but also more preventative by design. Rather than waiting for a virus or an attack to happen, it learns what’s ‘normal’ for the system, in order to detect and fight back against any ‘abnormal’ detections in real time. Anything from an anomalous device, to uncharacteristically large file transfers can issue security warnings and enable attacks to be shut down as, or before, they happen. This offers huge potential in a cyber security landscape where threats are evolving so rapidly.”