Smart Cities: Time for the Live Demo

on November 16, 2015

One of the most promising yet amorphous segments of the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) field is the so-called “smart city”. Tech sector heavyweights such as IBM, Cisco, and Qualcomm have significant smart city initiatives. Smart city concepts and demos are prominently featured in the many ‘innovation centers’ that dot the country. To date, actual implementations of smart city concepts have been more along the lines of individual projects. The smart grid project here, the transportation management initiative there.

The time might be right, however, to take the smart city concept to the next level: an actual, working, and continually evolving smart city, where all the disparate, siloed elements of today’s smart city initiatives are brought together into a more holistic approach.

Imagine how this could work. A Smart City Consortium, comprised of major stakeholders in the IoT ecosystem — from Cisco to AT&T to Disney to GE — would come together and fund Smart City. The Smart City would be located in a defined geographic neighborhood, which must have the characteristics of fairly dense population, along with a healthy mix of commercial, residential, and retail activity. This could be an emerging district or neighborhood of a city, like one of the new “lifestyle centers” that have become increasingly popular, such as Redmond Town Center in Seattle or Santana Row in San Jose. Barcelona, which seems to be the permanent home of the annual Mobile World Congress, could turn the Fira de Barcelona area into a working prototype smart city. Alternatively, Disney could raze Epcot, which has long felt outdated, and re-imagine it as Smart City.

Smart City would be a live, working test bed actively used by all residents, workers, and visitors. It could have ambitious goals, such as:

• Ubiquitous broadband connectivity
• 50% reduction in carbon footprint or 50% less energy use than comparable neighborhoods
• Leave your wallet at home
• Opportunities for re-imagining transportation, with KPIs around reducing traffic and private vehicle use

I envision the following key elements for Smart City:

1. Network: High-speed broadband connectivity that is ubiquitous and pervasive, featuring a mix of gigabit, WiFi, and mobile, depending on context. This could be a great opportunity to test small cell and some early 5G wireless services. These networks, which are the 21st century equivalent of water and electricity, would be free, widely available, and open to those who want to offer and test smart city services.

2. Hotspots, Sensors, Beacons: Complementing pervasive broadband networks would be a mix of hotspots, sensors, and beacons. For example, sensors would be located to test intelligent parking and traffic management. Retail locations would be outfitted with beacons to test advanced shopping and marketing concepts and initiatives.

3. Smart Energy: Smart City would harness the latest technologies and capabilities promoting intelligent energy management. A veritable grab bag of green energy initiatives, from solar energy to waste management to smart lighting and so on. A goal could be using 50% of the energy of comparable neighborhoods.

4. City Services: With Smart City, the days of dreading a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles are over. Smart City would be a great opportunity to test e-Government services. The goal? As close to coinless, paperless, and frictionless as possible. As an example, rather than some of the individual initiatives we see today around say, sensor-based parking, the whole idea of traffic management, of which parking is a part, is looked at more holistically.

5. Retail: Ubiquitous broadband, and the density of hotspots, sensors, and beacons would offer a great opportunity to experiment with next-generation retail concepts. Residents and visitors to Smart City would be willing participants in envisioning the future of the physical store, in addition to innovative sales and marketing techniques.

There would be open APIs across some of these smart city concepts, which would allow for entrepreneurs to develop and test new apps for the Smart City. Smart City would also a Big Data fest, with regular reports discussing progress across the sectors and which initiatives have been successful.

Another key component would be the Smart City Innovation Lab. This is different than private sector initiatives in that this Lab would be free and open to the public. This would be more like a living museum, an ‘attraction’ where companies could demonstrate and test new IoT/Smart City concepts. Visitors to the Lab would be willing participants in demos, tests, focus groups, and so on.

Imagine if Smart City came to fruition. It could be a destination site. Not unlike how people moved to, and tourists visited, Celebration, Florida when it was the vanguard of the New Urbanism movement. Imagine taking your kid, armed with a smartphone, a connected car, etc. to Smart City for the day. This would be Tomorrowland and Epcot all wrapped into one (without the $10 turkey drumsticks). Except that it would be real, live, and iterative. What a showcase for the forward-thinking mayor, municipality, district, or lifestyle mall owner who accommodates and facilitates Smart City.