Smart cities: They’ll change our jobs, businesses and our children

By: Thomas Frey Wednesday October 16, 2019 0 comments Tags: Thomas Frey, smart cities

By Thomas Frey

Senior Futurist

The DaVinci Institute

On a recent trip to London, it became clear that the British people are far less sensitive to surveillance cameras than we are in the U.S.

In fact, the number of cameras being installed in London is growing at a much faster rate than ever because homeowners are installing their own cheap security systems. Many people are genuinely scared and will share security camera footage on social media when the police don’t act fast enough. This is quite common.Thomas_Frey_blog_photoUSE 

In London, doorbell cameras and inexpensive DIY systems have become part of the overall surveillance network that is on track to exceed one million cameras by 2025.

Yet video cameras are only a small piece of the equation. Once we add sensor networks, audio recorders, sniffer tech, heat signature monitors, chemical analyzers, photoemission spectroscopy, thermal scanners, magnetometers, chromatography, and a wide variety of other forensic science tools to our street corners, flying drones, driverless cars, lamp posts, and sewer systems the amount of data we’ll be working with to better understand the nature of our cities will be staggering.

If we think of cities as living breathing organisms, where every facet of the city is expanding-contracting, flowing-trickling, inputting-outputting, and inhaling-exhaling, we begin to understand the dynamic nature of this kind of community.

There are lots of attributes that we’ll add to our wish list for the smart city of the future, but first and foremost, they will need to be “aware.” They’ll need to be aware of everything happening inside their borders. Awareness breeds responsibility and sets the stage for what comes next.

It’s all about flow. Smart cities will simultaneously aspire to be easy to live in, easy to work in, easy to travel in, and create easy ways to meet and connect with others.

At the same time, we’ll judge them by their liveliness, enthusiasm, vibrancy, spontaneity, impulsiveness, and their overarching aptitude for serendipity.

Not only will they need to offer great food and abundant forms of entertainment, but we will also want them to feel safe and free from criminal activity.

For business people, it’ll be a good investment. For talented people, it will have a way of amplifying their skills and abilities. And it will be both a great place to be a kid, and to raise a family.

Somehow a truly great smart city will not only make you feel like you’ve arrived, but it will just smell good, feel good, taste good, and have a way of exuding good karma!

Managing a Smart City through its Digital Twin

Cities will soon have their own fleets of drones, with scanning capabilities, to create digital models of their communities. As scanners, sensors, and resolutions improve, cities will begin creating increasingly functional digital twins of their streets, neighborhoods, and activity centers.

Having thousands of drones swarming over most metro areas on a daily basis may seem annoying at first, but the combination of new businesses, jobs, information, data analysis, new career paths, and added revenue streams will quickly turn most naysayers into strong industry advocates.

But for cities, digital twins will go much deeper than what’s viewable from above. This will mean digital twins of every power line, substation, sewage system, water line, emergency services system, Wi-Fi network, highway, security system, traffic control network, and much more. Done correctly, every problem will only be one or two clicks away from viewing on the digital twin master control center.

In short order, digital twins of cities will become treasure troves of data as the daily inflow and outflow of people, traffic, and weather become far better understood. This form of digital modeling will also give rise to search engines for the physical world.

Search Engines for the Physical World

Online search technology has framed much of our thinking around our ability to find things. In general, if it’s not digital and online, it’s not findable.

In the future, drones and sensors will replace much of the work of today’s web crawlers when it comes to defining our searchable universe.

Search technology will become far more sophisticated in the future. Soon we will be able to search on attributes like smells, tastes, harmonic vibration, textures, specific gravity, levels of reflectivity, and barometric pressures.

Over time, search engines will have the capability of finding virtually anything in either the digital or Physical world.

63 Examples of Smart City Capabilities

Most discussions about smart cities are masked in vague descriptions and ambiguous metaphors.

For this reason I’ve decided to put together a list of potential capabilities that smart cities could develop. With each of the items listed below, it’s easy to view them through the “too-intrusive lens” or “if this happens I’m leaving lens,” but every community will have the ability to determine their own feature sets, and how acceptable they’ll be to their constituents.

With the right kinds of sensors and technology, all of these questions can be answered.

Smart air monitoring systems

  1. Full spectrum air monitoring to detect new forms of pollution, disease, toxic chemicals, insects, and other airborne issues.
  2. Are telecom signals reaching dangerous levels?
  3. What are the most dangerous allergens currently floating in the air and when do they pose a serious danger?
  4. How have oxygen and CO2 levels changed?
  5. Where is the source of air-flutters or air disturbances?
  6. What is the source of specific kinds of air pollution?

Smart playgrounds

  1. Monitor possible surface contaminants.
  2. Scan for presence of animal feces, insects, snakes, and rodents.
  3. Signal alerts for emergency situations, injuries, child abandonment, etc.
  4. Are surface temperatures too hot or too cold?
  5. Has there been any signs of vandalism?
  6. Are the restrooms in safe and working order?

Smart transportation networks 

  1. Continually check for animals, birds, or other irregular objects that will interfere with the flow of traffic.
  2. Automatically reroute traffic around problem areas.
  3. Where are the wait times the longest?

Monitoring bird flow

  1. Is the overall bird population going up or going down?
  2. Are they flying higher or lower?
  3. How have migratory patterns changed?
  4. How has the mix of bird species change?
  5. What abnormalities are showing up and why?
  6. What is the overarching reason for these changes?

Smart delivery networks

  1. The primary objective for smart delivery networks will be to automatically find the fastest delivery route.
  2. Are there any dogs, trees, steps, or potholes that will interfere with a delivery?
  3. Have there been any people or kids “messing” with deliveries in the area?
  4. How have delivery times changed over the past week, month, year?
  5. How long do packages typically remain outside before they’re taken inside?
  6. What abnormalities are showing up that require further investigation?

Smart policing, fire protection, and emergency rescue

  1. Whenever an emergency call comes in, first responders will activate their fleet of drones to “get eyes on it.”
  2. When someone hits the emergency button in an autonomous vehicle, EMTs will quickly respond.
  3. Monitoring systems that gauge unusual ground tremors can be used to better anticipate earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Smart street lights 

  1. Smart streetlights will use a variety of sensors to monitor light, heat, wind, sound, moisture, pollution, magnetic pulses, harmonic vibrations, barometric pressures, and much more.
  2. They will automatically change color spectrum to help people in rain, fog, full moon, etc.
  3. Auto dimming will be used to let neighborhoods “go to sleep”.
  4. What buildings and structures show the greatest heat loss in cold weather?

Mosquito tracking

  1. Is the overall mosquito population going up or down?
  2. How effective have recent efforts to control mosquitoes?
  3. What new species are showing up and why?
  4. What is the primary breeding source and how has that changed from year to year?
  5. What diseases are they carrying and how has that changed?
  6. What are the most dangerous areas of the city today?

Noise monitoring

  1. Our world is filled with very distinct sounds and things like gunshots, screams, collapsing structures, and rushing water should all prompt further investigation.
  2. Pinpointing the source of noise violations.
  3. How has the mix of electric vs. gas-powered vehicles changed over the years?
  4. Does the howling of wolves, coyotes, or other predatory animals mean that more have moved into the area? Should neighborhoods be notified?

Sewer analysis

  1. Analyze urine and stool samples for abnormalities in color, consistency, volume and frequency.
  2. How have people‘s diets changed?
  3. What new pharmaceuticals are showing up in the sewer system?
  4. Are there any traces of parasites, infectious diseases, blood, sugar, or illegal narcotics?
  5. Are there any biomarkers present like urobilin, azithromycin, or sterols showing possible sewage contamination?
  6. How has the volume of waste changed both seasonally & annually?

Sniffer tech

  1. Sniffer tech will be used to detect the presence of a fire much like a community smoke detector.
  2. Triangulate the source of toxic and pungent emissions.
  3. How has the air quality changed and can it be tied to the weather?
  4. Much like a bloodhound, precision sniffer tech can follow the trail of both a suspect and a victim.
  5. It will also be used to track pollen levels, radon, ozone, and other forms of airborne pollution.

Landfill trackers

  1. How has the volume of waste entering the landfill changed over time?
  2. How has the mix between biodegradable vs. non-biodegradable trash changed?
  3. What toxic materials are ending up in the landfills and what are their sources?
  4. Testing for urine or bladder infections.
  5. Detect early signs of chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, or even highly contagious diseases like Ebola.

Final Thoughts

Our idea of what a smart city is today will undoubtedly morph and shift over the coming decades.

To be sure, data privacy will be an ongoing issue. Smart cities are essentially radiating information and it is up to us to determine the best way to protect residents when the probing and analysis becomes too intrusive.

Data privacy and security issues are more sensitive in some settings than others, and privacy is only part of the equation. If we think of this issue as a three-legged stool, we quickly realize that we have to balance privacy with security and convenience.

Some initiatives such as coordinated traffic lights are high on convenience and low on privacy issues, making them no-brainers. Others, such as tracking people through private businesses will provoke a backlash because they undermine the need for business secrecy in private spaces.

If poisonous fruit has made its way into some of the local grocery stores, people will want to know instantly. This is the same if local mosquitoes are found carrying a dangerous virus.

Competing WITH privacy is far different than competing AGAINST privacy. When we add intelligence to our homes, communities, and our cities, we face a whole new set of decisions to determine the best path forward.

As humans, we are obsessed with trying new things, pushing the boundaries, and testing our limits just to make a difference.

In the end, every capability our smart cities have will come down to our own human-centered value systems and how it will prepare us for a better future ahead.

Thomas Frey

About the Author: Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is a senior futurist and founder of The DaVinci Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Westminster. He is a well-known speaker on a variety of unique and thought-provoking topics and editor of The Futurist Magazine and blogger for FuturistSpeaker.com.