The Dream Of Smart Cities Is Fast Becoming A Reality

“This is good for your nerves and your wallets, and it makes parking a piece of cake.”

Smart homes and autonomous vehicles are the public face of the connected world, but they are just one part of a bigger picture … the smart city.
As the number of people who live in urban areas increases, there is a consensus that addressing the challenges of tomorrow is best served by starting today. The United Nations has predicted that the global population will hit 9.7 billion in 2050, with the majority of those living in cities. The utopian vision is that these cities will leverage data, technology and innovation to make life more comfortable for its residents … a vision that has every chance of being a reality.

And it is leading technology companies that are behind the dream of the smart city.

Take Panasonic, for example. The manufacturer has a strategic partnership with Denver through its CityNow project. Denver has set aside a 400-acre residential, mixed-use development center—Pena Station Next—for CityNow, with a hyper-connected community the ultimate goal.

Pena Station Next already has smart streetlights mounted with security cameras and sensors, along with smart bus stops and smart parking meters. All of these connected devices are built on Panasonic’s Internet of Things platform, with Pena Station Next doubling as a smart city laboratory.

According to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a private-public partnership is the best way to integrate smart city technology. Hancock said that this was a new model for the rest of the country, especially when you consider the foundational opportunities that tech brings to the smart city.

“We’re going to continue to evolve. Those opportunities are going to continue to evolve,” said Hancock, on stage at CES 2017. “And we look forward to our solar panels, our solar grid. That’s awesome stuff but it’s just the beginning.”

Panasonic is also working on Road X, a joint project with the Colorado Department of Transportation to make a section of Interstate 70 intelligent.
Around 90 miles of the state highway will be fitted with sensors that will make it smarter and safer for drivers. Panasonic is leveraging the data gathered from its vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-road communication projects in Japan for the American version of Road X. Both of these ongoing projects have been proved to prevent accidents and reduce traffic congestion, Panasonic said.

How Smart Cities Can Calm Our Nerves
Panasonic is not the only company focused on making our urban lives less stressful.

Global manufacturer Robert Bosch has developed technology that simplifies the arduous task of finding a parking spot. According to Robert Bosch North America’s president and CEO Dr. Werner Struth, it can take up to 30 minutes and around three miles to find a parking space in a city. The solution is to use connected vehicles as “spotters” to find an empty space, with the data then transmitted to other drivers in the area who might be looking for a parking space.

“To cut the time urban drivers spend looking for a space, and thus also to de-congest the roads, we are cooperating with Mercedes-Benz and other OEMs,” said Dr. Struth, in a recent speech at CES 2017. “With a concept we call community based parking, the aim here is to turn the car into a parking spot locator – an assistant that speaks with the road and helps you find a free space in no time. This is good for your nerves and your wallets, and it makes parking a piece of cake.”

The key to smart cities is personalized services, said Dr. Struth. With that in mind, Bosch is currently working with urban developers in San Francisco to turn a former naval shipyard into a smart, personalized community.

The Shipyard Communities project—some of which is sited on what is left of the Candlestick Park football stadium—will be LEED-certified, include automatic waste collection services, smart buildings and efficient traffic systems. Residents will also be given a smart community app that will act as a centralized information service—a “digital guardian that enhances life in the city,” said Dr. Struth.

Rising To The Smart City Challenge
In the last few years, the United States government has publicly nailed its colors to the mast when it comes to smart city development.
In December 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched a Smart City Challenge. Mid-sized cities across the country were invited to submit their proposals for an integrated smart transportation system, with the winner of the competition receiving up to $40 million in federal grants.

More than 75 cities took part, before being whittled down to just seven—Austin, Columbus, Denver (again), Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco. In June of 2016, the U.S. DOT selected Columbus, Ohio, as the winner, thanks to its holistic vision for how technology can improve life for all residents.

Eight months later, the federal agency has released a comprehensive list of the proposals submitted by all of the cities. According to the U.S. DOT’s Smart City Challenge: Lessons For Building The Cities Of The Future report, Columbus might have won the completion, but there was a familiar theme running through every submission … connected mobility.

For example, all of the finalists said that they would add more than 1,000 advanced traffic signals and equip 13,000 vehicles with dedicated short-range communications technology. Congestion was one problem that the seven finalists said could be alleviated with smart city technology, with each finalist citing the collection of data (from a number of sources that included smartphones) as a key component.

In addition, finalists also proposed a wide range of strategies, including an increase in the amount of sensors and “mobility marketplaces” that offer residents various transport options.

“At U.S. DOT, we expect Columbus—and all seven finalists—to serve as models for cities looking to become smarter. We are committed to providing continued support to all of the finalists by connecting them to partnerships, technical assistance, and funding opportunities,” the report said. “We plan to monitor the progress of Columbus and other cities closely, and to collect and share their success stories and lessons learned. Our hope is that the Smart City Challenge marks an important first step in the transformation of urban mobility and accessibility, not just in Columbus or our finalist cities, but across the country.”

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