A woman’s car is waiting outside her front door to take her to work, she checks her emails on the journey, once there her electric car drives itself off to park and recharge. A family of flying maintenance robots lives atop an apartment block, working to clear leaves blown into the gutter overnight. A man has a heart attack in the street – the emergency services send a drone equipped with a defibrillator arriving crucial minutes before an ambulance can.
Whether this is your idea of a future utopia or dystopia, the evolution of cities is already well underway. Smart cities across the globe are pioneering all sorts of cutting-edge technologies to reduce pollution, boost energy efficiency, increase safety and improve services. Not only is this helping to protect our planet and its inhabitants, it is stimulating growth and unleashing a new generation of jobs.
What does ‘Smart City’ actually mean?
It can be interpreted in many different ways, but primarily a smart city today is about ubiquitous connectivity. Making optimal use of all the interconnected information available to better understand and control its operations, and to optimise the use of limited resources.
It is live waste management systems that can talk to traffic monitoring systems for quicker and more efficient waste solutions, emergency services that can access live CCTV footage and sensors that track air pollution in real time – allowing citizens with asthma to avoid certain routes when air pollution is high.
It is an ever-evolving space, with some cities far more developed than others. NYC has rooftop wind turbines. Dubai is using water jetpacks to skip traffic and tackle fires from the air. Singapore is doing just about everything. Our home of Edinburgh… well Edinburgh has a state-of-the-art tram all the way to the airport.
It doesn’t mean the world has to look like a scene out of an old Jetsons cartoon. It is about improving the quality of life for citizens, utilising technology to be able to respond to the needs of citizens quickly and efficiently, at scale and in an eco-friendly manner.
By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. Companies which contribute to the development of smart cities, even indirectly, have profound sustainable advantages on health, safety and the environment. We like, and invest in, a number of these:
Tetra Tech – a leading provider of consulting and engineering services. Currently leading a project to help Kenya create its first smart city. A connected city in which everything from the streetlights, to the traffic lights and the irrigation valves will be controlled and optimised from a central system.
Everbridge – a global provider of communications and enterprise safety solutions, is automating the delivery of critical information through apps and warning devices. It is also helping businesses and emergency services locate their people in critical situations. As the state-wide emergency notification program used in Florida, the Everbridge platform is used to send over 20 million messages to combat the impact of Hurricane Irma.
Alphabet – its urban tech subsidiary Sidewalk Labs is currently eyeing up Toronto for its first digital city, “reinvented from the internet up”.
Tencent – the leading provider of internet value-added services in China. Working with Guangzhou city in China to construct a “new type of smart city”. The city will utilise WeChat, Tencent’s popular social media app, in public services for payments, facial recognition, and innovative services in healthcare such as electronic medical records and artificial intelligence.
Kingspan – the Ireland-based building materials company. Everything Kingspan does is smartcity-tastic. From smart LED street lights to smart energy management using the ‘Internet of Things’, everything is smart smart smart. It is currently developing an affordable sensor network for water level monitoring to alert via SMS local business owners, farmers or households in a vulnerable area.