For thousands of years, human society has organised itself in the form of towns and cities, from humble communities living within rudimentary settlements to the powerful city-states of the Renaissance to today’s modern metropolises. But coupled with the potential offered by today’s connected technologies, we may be standing on the brink of the most revolutionary change in the history of these bustling urban hubs: the transition of cities’ relationships to their citizens, from merely the material settlements they call their home to living, breathing entities capable of facilitating the minutiae of their day-to-day lives.
And evidence is now emerging that the cities of the future are primed to go beyond even that, and may even be able to extend our lives, saving us from danger, ensuring we get necessary medical help more quickly in times of need, and improving the quality of that healthcare with real-time, digitised medical information at the fingertips of medical professionals.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the innovations set to change the urban environments of the future, and ask whether these ‘Smart’ Cities can really improve – and even save – the lives of their citizens?
The Self-Defending Smart City
The potential for Smart Cities to implement their own security systems is perhaps best imagined by expanding our metaphor for the living, breathing city, as a ‘digital immune system’. Using state-of-the-art, intelligent technologies and a blanket coverage of sensors, the future city will be able to detect potential threats and respond to them in real time. A city that is used daily by thousands, if not millions of people is going to sustain creeping damage to its infrastructure, which can be tricky to measure. Power plants might overheat. Transport infrastructure can be damaged or malfunction. Bridges can collapse.
But our ability to detect these kinds of threats is rapidly improving, due to advances in forms of connectivity such as the Internet of Things (IoT). Using connected sensors, Smart Cities can record micro-level changes, transmitting data across the city and presenting potential problem areas in a centralised dashboard for municipalities. Machine-learning technology, which has already demonstrated an incredible ability to achieve mastery in a range of fields, could be employed so that the Smart Infrastructure can become effectively an expert in detecting true risk of damage, prioritising the biggest dangers which are then flagged to the local authorities best placed to deal with them.
Getting Smart With Emergency Services
Every citizen naturally has a vested interest in the smooth functioning of their city’s emergency response services, even though they would obviously hope never to have to put such services to the test. Delays in response times could mean the difference between life and death. Consequently, emergency response is rightfully high on the agenda for forward-thinking cities looking to implement Smart initiatives.
How do Smart Cities address present inefficiencies in the emergency services? Firstly, in making it easier for citizens to contact the services themselves through new digitally enabled channels. Rather than being limited to voice calls, several global cities are trialling the improvement of 999 calls (or the equivalent) with the capacity to accept text, images, and location data, enabling services to receive enhanced insight and information on an incident more quickly than was previously possible.
That is only the beginning of the potential catalyst for innovation and efficiency gains that Smart infrastructure could represent for emergency services. The rapid advance of IoT technology could mean that in the not-so-distant future, emergency call centres, CCTV cameras, and data centres will all be connected and mutually communicating in real time. That might mean, for example, police services can quickly respond to a reported crime and identify witnesses or suspected perpetrators with footage from the scene.
That’s not all. The beauty of the interconnected nature of the Smart City vision is the direct cooperation with Smart Traffic management systems, which could foster still greater efficiency. Emergency vehicles can have their driving routes optimised using Intelligent Traffic Systems (ITS) which adjust the ways traffic lights are phased, aiming to minimise red light delays. This could operate by tracking nearby traffic and pedestrians and skip or reduce red light phases, when not required. Connected GPS systems would also pick the most convenient route for emergency vehicles, setting speed limits and general traffic management to the utmost convenience and significantly reducing journey times. In the unfortunate circumstance of an emergency, those saved seconds and minutes could also save lives.
Healthcare Is Getting Smarter, Too
Citizens of the future Smart City are not only set to benefit from improved emergency response times, either. Diagnosis of ailments is also bound to improve drastically using digital and mobile technology. Already across the globe, city managers and dedicated research teams are working on IoT devices and solutions to improve remote treatment possibilities, flag up potential health problems more quickly, and more easily allow the valuable collaboration of doctors across the globe.
As any medical professional can attest, a key factor in the successful treatment of a health conditions is swift diagnosis, so that symptoms can be addressed before they can progress. This is particularly important with potentially life-threatening diseases, such as cancer. Already, wearable mobile devices are being used to monitor patient data, which can – through IoT technology – send alert signals to emergency response teams and medical professionals, allowing for rapid response. This can be invaluable, particularly when the worsening of a given health condition (say, heart disease) could be debilitating for the patient, meaning they would be unable themselves to report their condition. Remote monitoring of patient conditions in this way also offers the potential for significant cost savings to national healthcare services, through reducing unnecessary appointments and investigation.
For broader public health issues, Smart Cities could also have a role to play. The Zika virus which emerged as a public health concern in 2015–16 is a perfect case of illustrating how connected technology could help communities react to epidemics that would otherwise pose a danger. The Smart City response in this case would be threefold:
• First, IoT sensor networks could collectively process critical data in public health such as temperature, sound, vibration, water quality, pollutants, air pressure, and more.
• Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) could then be used to harvest this data and look for the source of issues which may be linked to the disease outbreak; in the case of Zika, lead-contaminated water or food poisoning.
• Finally, drones could use hyper-spectral imaging to identify standing waters and potential disease-carriers, such as mosquitoes.
Such a connected, high-tech ecosystem is quite possible in the not-so-distant future, and can be thought of as the Smart City’s connected ‘immune system’ – identifying and responding to the diseases which could affect its inhabitants, just as the white blood cells in our body intelligently do the same.
Smart City Technology: Potentially Life Saving
This adds to the growing body of evidence that Smart Cities are set to revolutionise urban management, which we’ve reviewed extensively in previous weeks. One of the major challenges to date in winning support for the ambitious urban management project has been the most vital of all – winning the support of the citizens who ultimately use a city – and want a voice in how it is run. The facts presented in this article will be imperative in winning over citizens as supporters, if not outright advocates, of the Smart City vision. After all, the technology examined here could change their lives for the better, if not save them outright in times of need. Local authorities will need to be conscious of these potential benefits and present them to citizens, winning their support as part of an ongoing, and multi-phased project moving towards the adoption and implementation of connected technologies.
Adraina Aroyya, is a Specialist Market Manager, Clarity 360 EMEA, based in Istanbul
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