How Smart Can Your City Get

Janani Gopalakrishnan Vikram is a technically-qualified freelance writer, editor and hands-on mom based in Chennai

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Smart products used by smart cities across the world

All over the world, interesting solutions are sprouting to cater to the needs of smart cities. Let’s look at some of the promising ones.

To navigate in a smart city, citizens and visitors need the Internet. But, what if you cannot afford mobile data (which is steeper on roaming)? To solve this problem, a Malaysian company called Simplify has developed an app that lets users sell excess bandwidth. Using this app, you can turn your Android smartphone into a secure hotspot, set a price to share it and sell to others. You can receive payments immediately through PayPal. This ability to buy spare data from others around them has proven to be very convenient, especially for tourists.

Non-stop communications is one of the highlights of a smart city. Any solution that can take connectivity to remote areas or augment the existing communication networks in busy areas is always worth including in a smart city framework. AT&T has developed a drone that provides LTE coverage to customers. It can be used to provide connectivity when the existing networks and services are likely to get overloaded or disrupted.

AT&T’s Cell on Wings (fondly called Flying COW) is basically a cell site on a drone, designed to beam LTE coverage from the sky to customers on the ground during disasters or big events. The drone carries a small cell and antennae and is connected to the ground by a thin tether. The tether provides a highly secure data connection via fibre and supplies power to the Flying COW, allowing non-stop flying.

Shanghai saw a 30 per cent drop in crime rates, thanks to its smart security solutions. To get there, a smart city needs proactive surveillance, not merely security cameras that let authorities to analyse the scene after a crime takes place. Deep Glint is a solution that uses 3D imaging to monitor large crowds and the way people on the scene behave. When the smart cameras spot a fight, unusual behaviour or doubtable characters, these instantly alert the concerned authorities.

ShotSpotter is another such safety solution. Although gunfire might be something we see only in movies, there are some areas where it is an everyday threat. However, the atmosphere in such areas is shrouded with fear and people hide as soon as gunshot is heard rather than report it immediately. Solutions like ShotSpotter or a network of sound sensors embedded in street lights can be used to report the incident immediately to concerned officials.

Oizom’s ambient air quality monitoring system and app help officials and residents stay updated about pollution levels in their area
Oizom’s ambient air quality monitoring system and app help officials and residents stay updated about pollution levels in their area (Source: Oizom)

Bigbelly offers a smart waste collection and recycling system that has been used in more than 50 countries across the globe. It is not merely an IoT-connected bin but also has a built-in solar-powered waste compacting system that enables the bin to store up to five times the amount of waste as a traditional bin of the same size. When it needs to be emptied, the bin alerts the appropriate city department, helping timely waste clearance and proper optimisation of pick-up truck schedules.

Another off-beat initiative in waste management is Zerocycle—a solution that collects and analyses garbage and recycling data to determine recycling rates for all neighbourhoods in a city. This information can be used to prepare customised waste reports for each neighbourhood, which can be circulated among residents. Although it sounds like a simple application, it has been found to be useful in creating awareness about recycling.

Citymapper is a solution that helps travellers to move around comfortably in a new place. It combines information about the locality’s public transport and provides multi-modal transport options to help users get to their chosen destination easily.

Searching for an available parking lot not only kills your precious time but also causes more pollution as you keep circling the neighbourhood! ParkWhiz app helps you find a parking spot in public or private parking lots. It even lets you reserve a paid slot using your credit card.

Cities need actionable information on sources of pollution in order to take corrective and preventive measures. EverImpact is a climate monitoring app that discovers the origins of greenhouse gas emissions in a city. It measures and monetises the city’s carbon dioxide emission by mapping ground-level sensor data with satellite locations. City officials get a real-time map of emissions at street and building level.

A successful city needs to be inclusive, providing a comfortable environment for those with disabilities. GPS-enabled mobile app BlindSquare is a successful digital service developed from open data in Helsinki. It helps visually-impaired people navigate through the city by describing the environment, announcing points of interest and street intersections, guiding them as they go along.

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