In our Intelligent World 2030 report, we discuss how technology will change almost every aspect of life, focusing on “8 Outlooks” that will unfold over the next decade. In part 6 of this series, we look how technology will transform the urban living experience into something that’s smarter, greener, and more convenient than ever.
What do you think of when you hear the term ‘smart city’?
Whatever your answer, it won’t be long before you experience it for real. That’s because technologies like 5G, cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and intelligent sensors are bringing the concept of a smart city to life. Together, they’re forming a new digital framework that will make the challenges of urbanization a thing of the past.
This has come at a crucial time. Already, cities account for 60% of global resource use, emit between 50–60% of greenhouse gas emissions, and struggle to ensure adequate water supply for 3.6 billion people. With the urban population set to grow by a further 700 million before 2030, cities urgently need solutions.
So, just how will technology create smarter, more livable, and sustainable urban spaces?
The Building Blocks of Smart Cities
Unlike conventional cities, smart cities are built on data. They rely on a multi-layered digital framework to gather, analyze, and use information to improve quality of life.
That starts with a vast network of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Installed across smart cities, intelligent sensors monitor developments across the urban area, collecting data on everything from air temperature to traffic conditions. Sensors convert even the smallest change in light, heat, movement, or pressure into a format that can be analyzed by humans. They’re essentially the eyes, ears, and nose of a city, enhancing our understanding of our surroundings.
Next, sensors send the information they collect straight to the city’s ‘brain’ – a central data lake that houses citywide data in its raw form. That’s where AI comes in. Algorithms are trained into experts to rapidly analyze, draw conclusions, and make decisions from data, before feeding it back into the city through actions that enhance things such as public safety, traffic management, and power use. Not only does this remove human judgement from the equation, it also enables a faster, more granular, and proactive approach to governance.
For all this to have any value, however, it has to happen in real-time. That’s what makes a smart city smart, after all. Existing network infrastructure simply can’t deliver the high bandwidth, large capacity, and low latency needed to transmit such huge amounts of data at such a speed. Therefore, smart cities need optical networks built from next-generation technologies such as 5G, F5G, and gigabit Wi-Fi. By 2030, organizations, homes, and individuals in many of the world’s leading cities will be connected via 10 gigabit wireless services.
Toyota’s smart city prototype, ‘Woven City’, is a great example of how this will work. Its streets, vehicles, and buildings will all be connected via smart sensors that gather and send real-time information to a central data lake. There, it will be analyzed using artificial intelligence before being used to ensure citizens’ safety, well-being, and happiness both at home and outdoors.
Although Woven City is in the early stages of development, it’s a promising glimpse into the future. With entire cities connected by one high-speed ecosystem, governments will be able to make faster, more resource-conscious decisions that enhance livability.
How Will This Impact Citizens?
As our cities transform, so will the way we experience them. A fully-connected digital ecosystem will allow for the creation of friendlier, more accessible, and more human urban spaces.
Accessing public services, for example, will be far easier in smart cities. By breaking down government silos, the central data lake will improve data sharing and streamline service delivery. In other words, we’ll no longer need deal with the inconvenience of complex government service systems. Indeed, many cities are already implementing more efficient processes. One example is through hybrid online-offline systems that offer citizens one-stop access to a range of services.
Among the cities leading this trend is China’s economic hub, Shanghai. In 2018, it launched an e-government portal that includes more than 100 services. Users can access these either from their smartphones or at one of over 200 physical service centers around the city. Since its introduction, the platform has drastically simplified everything from paying utilities to registering a business for more than half of the city’s 24 million residents.
At the same time, advances in technology will inspire the creation of new services to address common problems. For instance, a local government in Shanghai has begun installing free smart water meters for elderly citizens who live alone. Using AI, they monitor residents’ water consumption in real-time and alert the authorities if the reading falls below 0.01 cubic meters over a 12-hour period.
These are just some of the ways smart cities will change urban living and bring true value to citizens.
What About the Environment?
Among all the challenges facing urban management, sustainability is arguably the most pressing. Rapid urban expansion presents severe threats to the environment, and unless we find ways to address this, the situation will only worsen as populations grow.
Take waste management for example. UN-Habitat estimates urban areas will be generating a worrying 2.59 billion tons of waste by 2030, up almost 30% from 2016. Although governments have pledged to achieve ‘zero waste cities’ within the decade, this can’t be done without the help of technology.
Fortunately, smart city infrastructure allows for innovative solutions that address such issues. Indeed, we’re already seeing how it can make a difference in South Korea’s Songdo Smart City Hub. There, a network of underground pipes automatically suck waste from households and transport it to a central processing center for sorting and treatment. Likewise, a European organization has developed an AI-powered waste sorting robot that accurately classifies and separates garbage without the need for human management.
And it doesn’t stop there. We can also expect intelligent recycling cans and driverless garbage trucks to soon appear on the streets of our cities — all connected by the IoT.
Besides waste, another concerning consequence of urbanization is air pollution. According to the UN, pollution causes 7 million premature deaths per year. Yet still a shocking 90% of cities fail to meet the World Health Organization’s air quality standards.
That said, technology can help here, too. An organization in India, for instance, has developed nanosensors that monitor and report on urban air quality. Providing up-to-the-second insights, they help cities identify and take targeted action to address pollution sources. With the help of AI and machine learning, smart cities will soon be able to train sensors to independently predict real-time changes in air quality.
Building Towards a Smarter Future
We’re already seeing examples of how technology can transform urban living — so just imagine what life will be like in 2030. By then, IoT devices will help us make informed decisions, AI will ensure our safety both outside and at home, and our waste will get rid of and sort itself. Ultimately, our cities will become safer, more enjoyable, and sustainable places. Smart cities are the future of urban development, and this is just the start.
Learn more about our predictions for cities.
What else will be different in the Intelligent World 2030? Download our Intelligent World 2030 report to find out more.
Don’t miss the previous posts in this series:
- 8 Outlooks for Intelligent World
- Intelligent World 2030: How Will You Experience Healthcare in the Future?
- Intelligent World 2030: Food for Thought
- Intelligent World 2030: There’s No Place Like Home
- Intelligent World 2030: In the Fast Lane to the Future
Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.