It makes sense that as our lives become hyper-connected, so will the cities we live in.
If you believe the hype, mobile technology could well be the tool that facilitates many of the smart, urban connections aimed at improving general city services, transportation, energy use, environmental/green activities, and even something as simple as signage.
There's no shortage of examples of how this is evolving in cities around the world, and executives at the recent Mobile World Congress were quick to share their theories of where all this could be heading.
To put the smart city concept in some context, let's look at some high-level trends offered up by Michael Halbherr, executive vice president of location and commerce at Nokia:
- The future lies in the city. By 2050, three quarters of the planet's population will be living in cities. "The rush to live in cities is unprecedented," Halbherr said.
- The future lies in the mobile Internet. Pointing to the recent crossover phenomenon where smartphone shipments have outpaced PC shipments -- a trend likely to keep growing, the next-generation Web platform will have mobile DNA. Everything will be designed with a "mobile first" mindset, he said.
- Watch how the role of intelligent sensors grows. Now with NFC, GPS, sophisticated mapping and imagining technology, the number of sensors being used and applied to existing devices and emerging platforms will keep growing, and will help capture data needed to improve city services, transportation, healthcare and many other areas.
- There will be even more devices tracking our lives. The explosion of devices and apps tracking fitness, action-sports, day-to-day lifestyle activities -- to name a few -- will continue to explode he said. Expect to see many different form factors come to market in the coming years, and many different ways to create mobile interactions with things happening in our everyday lives.
- Social and local will converge on mobile. Halbherr predicts that all services as we know them know as you know them will converge on location services. It's no longer just about when we're meeting someone or when we're doing something. The "where" we do things will become a more important facet of the mobile experience and will influence how cities respond to their citizens' needs. Yelp, Foursquare and similar apps and services already do this kind of individual tracking, and executives expect to see these kinds of consumer apps be carried over to city planning, building construction, tourism/local leisure activities, and energy and transportation management.
As these trends unfold, cross-sector collaboration around mapping will becoming more critical, as will the complex cognitive process needed in provided more universal descriptions, something (not coincidentally) Nokia is working on with the integration of NAVTEQ navigation tools and maps.
Shifting sands: Sensors, people and wireless technologies
are going to make cities very interesting places in the coming decades.
For cities ready to embrace more of this thinking and apply more technology common issues, a range of opportunities exists, several others noted.
As an example, cities -- or new urban developments -- can monitor routine activities like garbage collection and optimize scheduling so that pick-ups are timed when bins are full or near-full instead of relying on traditional pick-up times, said Erik Brenneis, director of Vodafone's machine to machine business.
Similar technology strategies are being applied to city security, street lightning, public transportation routes and car-sharing programs, he added.
Of course, many also voiced obvious concerns and questions that soon need to be answered if these activities become more mainstream:
Who owns the data generated in the cross-over between mobile technology and smart cities, and how will it be efficiently and effectively shared?
Will mobile operators monetize the collection and access to key location and identify information, or will there be a willingness to share data to serve the common good (in this case planning smarter cities that better serve citizens)?
And, let's not even get started on the layers of local and international security issues involved with sharing individuals' personal data... we could go on all day with that.
The main point is if we're really on the verge of seeing many, many smarter and better connected cities the world over, to one degree or another, how is the electronics supply chain moving its traditional computing know-how, consumer device expertise and innovative design and supply chain thinking towards something that scales to thousands of mobile interactions benefiting millions of people within the same city limits?
Let's share some ideas in the comments section.