Winning Combination Of Digital & Physical Infrastructure Will Make Our Cities Smarter

Cities now have to develop and thrive despite challenges like population growth, lack of physical and social infrastructure, environmental and regulatory constraints, and rising expenses. 

Did you know that by 2050, the global population will increase from 7 billion to almost 10 billion? Currently, half of the world population lives in cities but they face major challenges as they seek to remain sustainable, healthy and safe places for people to live and work. Cities now have to develop and thrive despite challenges like population growth, lack of physical and social infrastructure, environmental and regulatory constraints, and rising expenses. Though there are numerous challenges, modern cities are identifying innovative methods to deal with the complexities of urban living and transitioning towards a more smart living. While, as individuals,  our day to day lives are seamlessly intertwined with technology, imagine if that scales to a city, state or country level. The concept of smart cities is not new. But there is still a lot that can be reimagined.  

In this article, we will see how a winning combination of physical and digital infrastructure can  scale the concept of Smart Living to Smart Cities.

More than just Smart living
When we think of smart living what comes to our mind - smart security systems connected homes where a coffee machine can talk to the alarm clock, thermostats like Nest and smart devices like Google Home or Alexa. Being just surrounded by smart gadgets in a smart home is not all about smart living. There’s much more to it.

How about making the concept of Smart Living scalable? For this, we need to design for impact and look at deployment practices that can ensure fast, cost-optimised build-outs. Here, we are looking at the bigger picture for developing smart cities because smart living in true sense will happen at the city level and not just at the home level. Cities with smart infrastructure will definitely make an impact on the day-to-day lives of the people.

Many developed nations have understood this notion and are using smart city solutions to build resilience, increase public safety, and create healthier, more liveable urban environments. Let us see how, in the US, investments in smart urban technologies have always been about making a difference in people’s lives. More than 40,000 lives are lost in the US every year in traffic crashes. To prevent this suffering, cities are now building “complete streets,” designed to separate traffic and reduce the chances and severity of collisions. There is seamless broadband and Wi-Fi coverage with no dead zones and no dropped calls. There are free charging stations placed conveniently so that no one worries about draining phone batteries.

These are some of the instances of how the US is enabling smart living for its citizens. Globally, other nations have also started making investments for developing an infrastructure that is future-ready. They have envisioned smart build-outs equipped with high-end technology that can enable: 

A robust traffic management system resulting in a 20% reduction in commuting time by 2025

Remote-patient-monitoring systems with the potential to reduce the health burden in high-income cities by more than 4%

Applications such as building-automation systems, dynamic electricity pricing, and some mobility applications combining to cut emissions by 10 to 15% and sensors and analytics cutting water losses by up to 25%

This is a vision from the future but is easily achievable. For this, smart cities have to be built with a right combination of physical build outs and next-gen technologies. 

Let us deep dive into the elements our future smart cities need to have.

Elements of a smart city – convergence of physical and digital infrastructure      

Smart cities must be built using physical infrastructure and smart technology solutions so that they can respond more dynamically to the changing demand. This will definitely make everyday living easier and better for the people while maximizing the use of resources

Futuristic smart cities will be an outcome of design-thinking and humanising technology. A winning combination of digital and physical infrastructure comprising connectivity, smart technologies and applications are required for the smart cities that define excellence. 

Connectivity is the foundation layer for any smart city and itscore concept would not be possible without ubiquitous connectivity solutions. The wireline and wireless communications networks connect smart IoT devices, edge devices and sensors that supply data from which information is derived to manage assets and resources efficiently.

Smart technologies - They are a result of the combination of many smart next-gen solutions across the value chain. They entail larger investments in emerging technologies such as analytics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, social engagement and collaboration tools, and mobile solutions.

Applications – Smart cities are not only the result of modern urban planning that emphasizes collaboration, co-creation, crowd-sourcing and grassroots efforts but also connected to a network infrastructure that supports modern technologies to enable use cases. After embedding smart technologies in the next-gen networks the next step is making everyday living easier and better for the people while maximizing the use of resources.                               

Leveraging this winning combination, smart cities will transform their core systems and optimize the return from largely finite resources. For us, smart cities will change the way we live in more than one way.

To enable all this we need to develop sustainable smart cities for which we will have to take the best fit approach and figure out the most appropriate execution models. 

Taking the best-fit approach

Smart cities have a bright future and with a combination of living and agile build-outs, we can actually tap their complete potential. Smart cities can then pave the way for the modernisation, growth and prosperity of a nation as a whole. But to achieve all that, the right model must be executed. While smart cities previously focused on linking infrastructure to gain better insights, it is gradually shifting to better engaging governments and enterprises with the objective of improving services and quality of life.

We recommend taking the following approach while designing and developing a smart city model:

Well-coordinated execution methodology - Enterprises will need to work seamlessly with city administrations as this will bring synergy and ensure excellent on-time project delivery, be it for physical or digital infrastructure.

End-to-end ecosystem development – Rather than developing solutions in silos to solve a particular challenge, enterprises must focus on a fully integrated, bespoke end-to-end solution across products, services and software

Customised solutions for maximised ROI – Every region is different with varied geographical orientations. For an enhanced alignment and maximum ROI, smart city solutions must be customised for each region according to their requirements.

These recommendations will help develop future smart cities that are more connected, networked, and collaborative with businesses taking a central role in driving the future of smart cities and governments enabling their participation seamlessly.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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infrastructure projects infrastructure smart cities