Real-time traffic data and free parking spaces displayed on a smartphone or the car’s dashboard are some of the first features of the connected city. 

London-smart-city

Smart transport: the beginnings of a smart city

Getting around cities is a major headache for users, and is one area in which the application of digital technologies has brought some notable improvements, with the use of consumer applications. For example, the various open data initiatives implemented by city transport networks allowing users access to real-time data on traffic or public transport via mobile or on-board apps. Data analytics is also valuable to municipal authorities to regulate traffic flows and ultimately make commuters’ and citizens’ lives easier. Car parks and roads with embedded sensors and traffic lights that are controlled in real time are paving the way to smarter urban environments.

Smart-parkingConnected parking services

More and more cities around the world are rolling out smart parking systems. To achieve its 3-year smart city transformation target, Dubai has set up free Wi-Fi hotspots, electrical car charging stations and apps to find parking spaces. San Diego, California, meanwhile, has signed a contract to install 5,000 smart parking meters with faster payment via credit card and a mobile app to locate spaces. Smart parking systems also offers city councils a wealth of data on use rates, car parks’ profitability and meter maintenance requirements. Lausanne will soon be used as a pilot city in French-speaking Switzerland to test a wireless open-air parking space alert system, which is already in use in covered car parks. In Los Angeles, parking meter prices are adjusted according to the time of day, and the city of Madrid is introducing smart parking meters that measure each car’s CO² emissions and adjust the rates accordingly, charging extra to the cars that pollute the most. In Dubai, drivers receive an alert on their smartphone when their parking meter has run out.

Researchers and smart city systems

However ingenious they may sound, public transport and parking apps and pollution measuring systems are just the tip of the iceberg that is the smart city. For a city to be truly smart,  all the data needs to be interconnected –  something which remains a major technological and financial challenge that some researchers are trying to tackle.

A member of the Institut Carnot network, the CEA Leti is a leading French research facility with over 1700 researchers specialising in micro and nanotechnologies. In the June issue of its review, Les Défis du CEA, the institute presented a smart city project called ClouT, a contraction of Cloud and Internet of Things. “Basically it involves developing a software platform that collects in the cloud the data from a variety of information channels. This data can then be accessed via the internet and analysed: [...] Transport, security, weather, pollution, events: each town abounds with infinitely complex networks of data: making sense out of this data is what ClouT aims to do.”

But CEA-Leti isn’t alone; a number of major R&D organisations are working on methods and tools for smart cities, to address IT issues and create models for measuring performance, such as ISMB (Istituto Superiore Mario Boella), a partner of Econocom. The Turin-based research centre works on smart solutions for industry and methods and tools for ‘’Scientific Urban Management’’.