Blog / SMART Cities – A Look at SMART City Technologies Displayed at CES – Part 1
I mentioned last week that the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas had a special emphasis on SMART Cities. Like many other tech buzzwords, SMART City is not clearly defined, and is freely used to tag just about any product or service, as an effort to increase market appeal. For our purposes, I propose the following definition:
The digitization and automation of municipal products and services provided to ratepayers.
That can encompass a very broad spectrum and will vary widely, depending on the size and location of the municipality; a SMART City of Edmonton is going to look completely different than a SMART Village of Kitscoty or Lac Ste. Anne County. Consider 3 simple examples:
SMART Street Lights: LED streetlights that automatically sense vehicle or pedestrian traffic through GPS tracking and activity monitoring, to dim when no activity is detected, but brighten when movement is spotted. This could save many thousands of dollars in electricity costs and result in a smaller carbon footprint.
SMART Traffic Lights: Traffic lights that monitor vehicle traffic patterns and adjust to streamline traffic flow, based on demand. Think of that snowy day when you apply your breaks at a yellow light, only to continue sliding through the intersection. The SMART traffic light will have already adjusted to the weather conditions and extended the yellow light duration, allowing extra time to clear the intersection. A SMART Traffic could even signal a SMART vehicle to alert drivers of an impending light change. This could improve traffic flow and reduce accidents. The ultimate application of SMART Traffic Lights could be to automatically control self-driving vehicles.
SMART Park Maintenance: Autonomous sidewalk sweepers and grass-cutting machines can be used to perform routine park maintenance; even during off-peak hours. This could extend to snow removal in winter. The benefits to residents would be better-maintained facilities, while the municipality would save on staff resources that could otherwise be used more productively.
More sophisticated and advanced examples include: SMART road signs for dynamic messaging (depending on road conditions or users), automated SMART water treatment facilities, automated drone-enabled security, autonomous vehicle (AV) friendly roadways, and pay-per-use roads with GPS tracking.
SMART products, services and initiatives will impact all aspects of municipal operations in the near future, in ways which we are just starting to understand.
All these SMART capabilities have their roots in the Internet of Things (IoT): Gadgets that are Internet-connected but have no direct human control or interaction. IoT devices have been around for years. But to make IoT devices practical for the SMART City, two other essential technologies are combined: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 5G (Internet) communications. As discussed in the last article, AI enables devices to self-learn and correct their actions based on learning algorithms. 5G is the new enhanced communications (Cellular) network, with speeds reaching 100 times faster than current 4G or LTE technologies. 5G promises to make Internet connectivity fast and stable across an entire municipality.
Back to the displays at the CES SMART Cities’ section. It was disappointing! All but a few vendors showed technology that enabled or supported self-driving vehicles (AV’s.) While AV’s are the holy grail of a SMART City, most AV technology focuses on the vehicle itself; not the infrastructure required to make AV’s viable. Short of dedicated AV roadways and ensuring 5G is properly deployed across an entire municipality, self-driving vehicle manufacturers are developing their products to function independently of supporting infrastructure.
One vendor – Fybor – did have displays for SMART Traffic Lights, Street Lights, Air Quality Monitors, and more. And as mentioned before, if one vendor shows it this year at CES, and subsequently ten vendors have competing products next year, you can be assured it’s a trend.
But it wasn’t all disenchantment at CES SMART City. There were very interesting forum discussions around issues that had nothing to do with technology, and those will be next week’s topics.