Smart cities provide critical infrastructure for a network of sensors, cameras, wireless devices, cables, and data centers. This infrastructure enables city authorities to deliver essential services more efficiently. Furthermore, by utilizing sustainable construction materials and reducing energy consumption, intelligent cities promote environmental friendliness and improve resilience.
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Urbanization is on the rise, leading to tight budgets and aging facilities for cities worldwide. To build healthier, more resilient, efficient, comfortable, engaging, and intelligent communities for the future, modern city managers are deploying sensors.
Cities are complex systems with numerous interconnected components and numerous concentrated risks. Due to their complexity and size, cities are vulnerable to disruptions. When bottlenecks or major disasters occur, the resulting ripple effects and economic losses can quickly escalate.
Technology for Resilient Cities
Smart technologies offer cities the potential to manage growth and withstand shocks. By providing preventive measures, emergency response tools, and sustainable growth plans, innovative technologies equip local agencies with the necessary tools to address the complex challenges of urban environments. McKinsey Global Institute's recent report highlights the availability of numerous digital solutions that can enhance the resilience and flexibility of infrastructure systems.
Cities experience significant disruption when transportation, traffic flows, electrical grids, and other fundamental services are subject to bottlenecks and outages. Smart technologies offer solutions to maintain the smooth functioning of these systems. By integrating IoT sensors into existing infrastructure, predictive maintenance can be carried out, mitigating the risk of commuter delays, water main breaks, and blackouts.
Intelligent technologies make it cheaper to gather data on usage patterns, providing agencies and the public with real-time information to optimize existing systems. Some technologies encourage off-hours transit use, route changes, energy and water conservation, and preventive self-care to reduce the burden on the formal healthcare system. Dynamic electricity pricing is an example of technology that relies on sophisticated meters to monitor usage and charge higher prices during peak demand periods. Detailed feedback on current use to users helps them be more conservative with electricity use while also shifting loads to off-peak hours.
Cities can further benefit from digital monitoring and consumer updates, improving waste management, recycling and water conservation.
Intelligent Emergency Response with Sensors
Cities are responsible for managing day-to-day operations and responding to emergencies. Technology has become essential for all critical emergency phases, from call centers to hospital admissions.
Newer emergency call systems receive sensory input from enhanced GPS capabilities and are designed to be more responsive for better resilience. They allow callers to submit video, images, and text to dispatchers, enabling first responders to have a clear picture of the emergency scene.
Advance warning in natural disasters is critical for residents to take precautionary measures or evacuate if necessary. Storm-tracking satellites and weather-prediction modeling have made dramatic advances. Early-warning systems are being developed to shut down the flow of natural gas in pipelines and warn people of impending tornadoes.
Social media channels and mobile apps are being used to supplement news media efforts and crowdsource data to help assess the damage and deploy resources.
Emergency situations can strain resources, and a lack of information sharing across agencies can hamper efforts. Big data dashboards and data visualization tools in command centers can help allocate resources and coordinate multiple agencies.
Drones and robots are increasingly being used to survey damage and assist with search-and-rescue efforts. According to analysts, cities can improve emergency response times by optimizing emergency call dispatching and synchronizing traffic lights for emergency vehicles.
Data-Driven Long-Term Planning
Cities are facing both short-term and long-term challenges, and managing these requires the ability to react in real-time while also planning for the future. Utilizing data analysis at scale and geospatial mapping tools can provide city planners with valuable insights, enabling them to make smarter decisions about how to expand infrastructure systems in order to support growth.
Unlike traditional infrastructure projects, smart solutions are often much quicker and more cost-effective to introduce, making cities more agile and adaptable.
The most significant long-term challenge facing cities is undoubtedly climate change. Urban areas are responsible for over two-thirds of the world’s energy consumption and around 70% of its greenhouse gas emissions. A range of smart technologies can help to reduce emissions, including smart mobility options that discourage the use of private vehicles and reduce traffic congestion, as well as intelligent building management systems and smart meters that reduce energy consumption.
According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, cities that deploy a range of smart solutions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 10-15%. Officials can also use big data, climate models, and predictive analytics to understand vulnerabilities and plan accordingly by, for example, mapping flood risks and changing zoning codes or building levees and seawalls.
Cities need to improve their operational capabilities and future-proof their infrastructure to deal with both current and future challenges. Smart technologies can help cities become more responsive and adaptable, but digitizing the urban environment also makes cybersecurity a critical priority. Investing in robust and flexible infrastructure systems can position cities to accommodate future growth and withstand any shocks that may arise.
Quantum Sensing for City Resilience
The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing are developing quantum sensors to improve the resilience of UK infrastructure. GPS dependency is often underestimated, with 7% of UK GDP at risk from GNSS outages, costing £1bn per day for the first five days.
The Hub is collaborating with industry partners to develop quantum sensor technology for real-world applications, such as a standalone navigation system invulnerable to GPS risks and quantum gravity sensors to create real-time underground maps.
These sensors have the potential to detect previously invisible phenomena, with wide-ranging impacts from improving mental health to preventing train disruptions. The use of quantum sensing could enable the detection of previously undetectable phenomena, which will enhance our understanding of the world around us.
References and Further Reading
Bennett, S. (2021). Building resilient cities with quantum sensors. [Online] University of Birmingham. Available at: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/2021/building-resilient-cities-with-quantum-sensors
Enlut, D., et al (2022). The role of sensors in the production of smart city spaces. Big Data & Society. doi.org/10.1177/20539517221110218.
Channi, H.K., and R. Kumar (2021). The Role of Smart Sensors in Smart City. Smart Sensor Networks. doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-77214-7_2
Rames, J. and J. Woetzel (2018). Smarter cities are resilient cities. [Online] McKinsey. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/operations/our-insights/smarter-cities-are-resilient-cities