Innovations
November 12, 2013

The rapid rise of intelligent cities

While not all cities are created equal, great competition should bring out the best in them. More than ever cities are watching technology trends.

The world’s first zero-carbon, sustainable city in the form of Masdar City will be completed just outside Abu Dhabi. That same year, crash-proof cars will be made possible by using radar, sonar, and driver alert systems. Not in Canada, you say. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Perhaps mine is a little more progressive than yours. My vision of the future includes the first around-the-world flight by a solar-powered plane being accomplished by bringing truly clean energy to air transportation for the first time. Space tourism will hit the mainstream with packages ranging from $10,000 up-and-backs to $1 million five-night stays in an orbiting hotel suite. Unprecedented connectivity will build upon the social networks, both real and virtual.

The way we interface with computers will change just as the nature of the computer has changed over time. When computers first arrived on the scene, the power of the computer was considered mysterious, the domain of the expert and reserved for use in highly technical arenas. Over time computer use transitioned from memorizing and typing computer code at giant yet fragile workstations into the use of simple applications. Virtual platforms will expand and contract on demand. Cloud technology will change from being an option to being the default.

Major sectors of the economy will be transformed, driven by new requirements like traffic management, data analytics, and machine-to-machine communication. This kind of capability already has the potential to stretch across a city’s services, from monitoring power generation and optimizing electricity and water usage. The geospatial visualization of data and the integration of mobile devices will be coming next.

The need for integration extends to everything. There is a new world of cities ahead that calls for an existential experience of converging models, solutions, and technologies. The world cannot go on without it. Cities around the world are bringing more intelligence to their suite of services. Some cities have already created real-time applications for vehicle fleet tracking but those innovations are scratching the surface of what’s to come. The drive to make everything mobile will be unstoppable.

Technology is moving fast. The internet connects one billion PCs, five billion cell phones and over a trillion web pages. Today’s handheld iPad 2 is as powerful as the fastest computer two decades ago. That’s inspiring. In a few decades, the computational power of the human brain will be available and cheap. That will impact every aspect of our lives. Communications and collaboration will deliver truly unified communications integration. Mobile broadband will be fully integrated and practiced.

The intelligent city is a smart sustainable city. One of the best things about a truly intelligent city is that it possesses interoperable and scalable platforms. People are people. Simple applications are best, ones that are based on non-proprietary code and interfaces. It delivers the best of both worlds. Interoperability makes for effective smart traffic management solutions. The best sensors reduce traffic, which reduces carbon emissions and generates additional revenues. The trend is how mobile power is harnessed and prioritized. IT leaders will focus more on how people do their jobs and interact with technology in their lives.

The Smart World concept is moving forward making the most of initiatives like IBM’s Smarter Planet and Cisco’s “Intelligent Urbanization” and “EcoCity” development models. The Smart World is a Smart Eco Planet of intelligent sustainable communities: countries, regions, cities, towns, villages, districts, and neighborhoods. The power of the Smart World idea is in its capacity to merge three different worlds into one: an Eco World, Digital World and Social World.

The transition to an “intelligent infrastructure” will accelerate the growth of a multi-billion dollar market. No matter, some cities will still face difficult challenges in harnessing and integrating these technologies. Before cities can ever hope to seriously take advantage of converging models, solutions and technologies, they must respond to the uncertainties of technological progress. The growth of intelligent cities depends on it. Continuing to struggle with legacy systems will hamper integration and put cities at risk of falling further and further behind in the process.

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