Smart cities: new technology, new urban opportunities

NOVEMBER 2012

18-01-01Technology is a basic part of our lives and it is also crucial to what have become known as smart cities Many people think that the term is only used to describe a high-tech city… but smart cities are in fact much more than that. Our society has been based on technology for some time: since more than two centuries ago, when the industrial revolution brought technology to the factories in cities or on the outskirts.

An economy based on manual labour gave way to one dominated by industry, which became consolidated thanks to the technology of the steam engine, mechanized looms in the textile industry and the railways later on.

This period led to the transformation of hitherto agrarian and rural societies into new industrial and urban societies, in which cities began to become increasingly important in technological and demographic terms. This led to the rapid development of cities, but it also had some negative effects: noise, dirt, pollution and urban sprawl. Later, the mass popularity of motor vehicles increased the impact and the extent of this process, and spread it everywhere.

18-01-03Today, cities cover 2% of the planet’s surface, are home to more than half of the world’s population, and consume 75% of its resources. United Nations forecasts estimate that in 2050 the urban population will account for 75% of the world’s total, and the current rate of consumption of resources is unsustainable. Technology, which was instrumental in the process of the creation, development and environmental and social impact of cities, will now play a critical role in the transformation of modern urban environments to make them more sustainable and livable.

The way cities operate today is inefficient from the point of view of energy, resource management and adapting to the lives and needs of their inhabitants. However, the technology now available allows us to significantly offset the current model of energy and resources consumption to make cities more efficient and more livable.
Smart steps

The introduction of smart meters enables electricity to be distributed more efficiently and used more effectively, based on consumer demand at any given time and based on the location of the demand. This avoids energy being taken to places where it is not required – and is something that is particularly important because 35% of energy is lost in transit, according to estimates by the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.

The city of Birmingham was one of the first in Europe to start using these meters and in the first 12 weeks of operation, electrical bills were reduced by about 60% and 12 tons of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere were prevented.

18-01-04In recent years, technology has simplified the use of sensors in various cities and plug and play environmental sensors have been designed that can monitor and locate several variables almost in real time, using either an computer or a mobile phone. They have been joined by collaborative open access platforms like Pachube that enable these data to be shared and democratized globally.

Furthermore, the convergence of telecommunications (with the internet as the prime example) and information technology – with the smartphone as the paradigm of cutting-edge technology in a single device – are transforming the way we live, and providing a better urban future for everyone. Two smartphone applications are examples of several technologies coming together in one solution: the first detects and reports potholes in the streets of Boston and the second provides information on how and when to take the bus in Barcelona. These are just some of the ways that technology is redeeming itself on the urban landscape only two centuries after the industrial revolution.

The smartest street

18-01-05The second Smart City Expo & World Congress will feature the new Smart City Plaza. This new space, designed for companies participating at the smart cities summit, will showcase their technologies in a real environment, reproducing a small portion of a city in which some of the technologies available today that would immediately transform modern cities have been implemented.

By deploying sensors and smart devices that interact with each other, this space shows the extent to which these innovations provide an improvement in citizens’ quality of life and reduce the environmental impact of human activity and the costs of using and maintenance of services.

FOLC LECHA