5 Smart City Technologies already on your Street

From reimagined phone boxes to retrofitting street lights, the smart city is underway

If you live in a big city, you’ll be familiar with the everyday inconveniences that come with urban life. Congested traffic, delays in public transportation, pollution and criminal activity are just a few of the obstacles that city dwellers face on a regular basis. Eventually, though, these problems could be a thing of the past. How? Data. By connecting the various different processes of a city, services can be regulated to suit demand and respond to real time scenarios. More and more companies are entering the smart city sphere, developing technology to enable connected urban spaces. But what are they, and how do they work?

1. Smart Kiosks
Say goodbye to the simple phone box and hello to Intersection, an Alphabet funded company that has developed Wi-Fi connected kiosks called ‘Links’. The kiosks are fitted with tablets, USB charging ports, information screens. . . and in case anybody actually needs to make a phone call, they come with keypads too. In London and New York City, governing bodies plan to replace phone boxes with the informative hubs. New York began installing LinkNYC machines in 2016, and aims to set up 7,500. London is the first UK city to install InLinkUK kiosks. They may make life easier for city goers, but London’s traditional red phone boxes are iconic. Perhaps Intersection should reconsider their colour scheme if they want to crack the UK market. Even so, the company’s smart kiosks herald cities where you can charge personal devices, get traffic updates, keep up with current events and call your partner all at the same time.

2. Lamp post charging points
German startup Ubitricity is taking standard lamp posts in London and turning them into electric vehicle (EV) charging ports. Their retrofit system allows for overnight electric car charging without changing city infrastructure, representing an important enabler for both EV adoption and smart city development. Whilst car owners are asleep (and presumably not in their cars), it’s the perfect time to charge EVs without inconveniencing the driver. Ubitricity’s chargers are able to track usage and then bill the user on a monthly basis. Delivering long, low power options could be a vital tool in meeting future electricity demand.

3. Air quality sensors
The applications of the Internet of Things are undoubtedly extensive – but one you’re unlikely to have come across is IoT air quality control. A common complaint with city life is air pollution, which is as damaging to the environment as it is to our lungs. In Glasgow, the ‘Sensing the City’ initiative is using IoT sensors to track air quality. The sensor network collects data about carbon monoxide, temperature, humidity, and other metrics to monitor pollution. At the moment, this is only a proof of concept – but nonetheless, it could be instrumental in helping urban centres to meet regulations and reduce emissions.

CCTV cameras are already common, but they are far from infallible. Equip these devices with Artificial Intelligence, however, and suddenly they become precise, intelligent tools for law enforcement and security. AI cameras have been trialled in correctional facilities as part of efforts to stop counterfeit from entering prisons. Computing company NVIDIA, backed by a $4 billion investment from Softbank, are now building AI cameras for the commercial market. By 2020, NVIDIA plans to install over a billion smart cams. On the one hand, smart cameras could help citizens to feel safer by promising higher quality criminal identification. On the other hand, though, they could easily be viewed as overkill.

5. Smart buses
Add big data analytics to public transport and what do you get? A bright green 30 seater bus. It might sound like a bad joke, but the green machines are very much a reality. In May, popular urban travel app Citymapper set up a pop up bus route called CMX1. It was navigated by ‘Sprinter’ buses which used the app’s extensive real time data to pick the quickest and safest routes. Transport has been an early priority for smart city enthusiasts and it’s easy to see why. Congestion, delays and overcrowding have all contributed to the general consensus that public transport can be a nightmare. Citymapper’s Sprinter buses used data from a variety of sources to make smart decisions about journeys to improve customer satisfaction and also the efficiency of inner city travel. Looking forward, all public transport within smart cities will be run in this way.

From pollution to policing, smart city technology is transforming the way that urban spaces are run. By collecting and comparing data, innovative companies and collaborations are gradually finding ways to solve some of the key problems associated with city life. Although these organisations come from across the globe, London has emerged as a focal point for project testing. Today, the most important projects are those which integrate with incumbent infrastructure. Without an initial transitional phase, the growth of smart cities would be considerably compromised. There’s still a long way to go, but the technologies listed above represent the first tangible steps towards truly smart cities.