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Smart cities of today and tomorrow

The future is here. Electric vehicles, along with other technologies, give city planners the data they need to keep us moving.

Smart cities are revolutionising the way we navigate big city living.

Increasingly, our car and smartphone will interact with the places we live, work and shop, streamlining our lives and moving us towards a more energy-efficient future. Electric vehicles play an important role in this evolution and the development of smart cities.

Gazing into the smart city crystal ball

Imagine. You’re approaching your inner-city apartment building in your self-driving electric vehicle (EV). Your traffic-free trip is guided by streetlight sensors analysing vehicle movement in real-time. When you’re 10 minutes from home, your EV alerts your smart home hub activating the lights, air conditioning and music in your house. It also speaks to delivery drones that pick up your online purchases. On arrival, you make a detour to the communal rooftop farm where you pick up some organic vegetables for dinner.

Your CBD co-working space also has a green roof. It collects sunlight for energy and water for the building. You spent your break there, enjoying lunch under the shade of the fruit orchard. These vertical farms are all over the city, cooling tower facades and growing fresh produce with zero food miles.

You decided to walk to your afternoon meeting to meet your step quota for the day. With every step you took on the footpath, smart paver technology generated seven watts of electricity to light the city. These pavers also send data on pedestrian movements to city planners.

As you settle in for the evening, your docked EV is in bi-directional charging mode, sending unused energy from your battery back into the grid to support your community’s power needs during peak usage time. Your EV will start charging when the grid signals the beginning of off-peak rates. Your carbon footprint lowers every year, along with your transport and energy costs.

Is this fantasy or reality?

This imagined scenario is not so futuristic. In fact, all the necessary technology to make it a reality already exists. It’s called the Internet of Things (IoT) and it’s only in its infancy. IoT refers to the smart interaction between devices and entities. On a personal scale, you’re using IoT every time you tell your home hub to turn on the television or use your smartphone to activate your security system. These ‘things’ are talking to each other via the internet, to make your life easier.

On a grander scale, IoT technology is being utilised in the creation of ‘smart cities’. According to a report by ESI ThoughtLab, a smart city ‘is a hyperconnected urban area’ that uses the ‘latest technologies to transform and interconnect key areas of their ecosystem—from roads to cars, buildings to energy grids, citizens to government, and cities to cities.’

Why should cities be ‘smart’?

Cities can be crowded, expensive and stressful, but our obsession with urban living shows no sign of slowing down. Recent decades have seen a steady shift in the global population towards urban centres.

As this trend gathers pace, the UN predicts that the world will have 43 megacities (a city with more than 10 million inhabitants) by 2030. And by 2050, more than 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas.

City planners are looking to smart city technology to protect or even enhance quality of life in high-density regions.

Nations around the globe are on track to spend $135 billion on smart city infrastructure by 2021. Meanwhile, the number of internet-connected items in the world is expected to reach 25 billion by 2021.

Smart cities in action

Cities across Europe and the US are leading the way in terms of implementing smart technology and infrastructure.

Barcelona saved 75 million euros and created 47,000 new jobs by integrating smart water, lighting and parking management. In the same report by ESI ThoughtLab, Helsinki has recently launched an app called Whim that combines all transport options, including share cars and bikes, into one. Citizens compare trip length and cost in real-time and are instantly connected to providers.

Las Vegas uses infrared and audio sensors in park areas to detect any potential public safety issues so the city can dispatch patrol vehicles accordingly. More broadly, the US is a leader in waste management technology, with smart bins sending messages to central depots when they need emptying.

Smart cities, Australian style

If Australia’s population exceeds the predicted 50 million by the end of the century, dense urban living will be the new normal. A University of Melbourne study found that nine out of 10 Australians already live in cities, and we’re building two megacities of our own. By 2061, Melbourne is predicted to reach a population of 8.6 million, while Sydney will each 8.5 million.

Big cities are exciting places to be, but they can also be difficult to navigate without adequate planning. Smart planning helps citizens enjoy the benefits of big city living while minimising the pain points.

Smart city initiatives can use real-time data from EVs, for example, to improve the efficiency of public and private transportation, congestion, payment systems, energy usage, public health provision, public safety and waste management. Technology is evolving separately in these sectors, but the impact is multiplied when synced with smart systems.

The technology behind smart cities – including EVs – is becoming more accessible and affordable. At the same time, councils and cities across Australia are receiving grants from the federally funded $50 million dollar Smart Cities and Suburbs Program. Along with our own smart choices as consumers, initiatives like this will help propel us towards cleaner, more efficient and ‘smarter’ city living.

Figures and information provided in this article are true and accurate as of 06/01/20.

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