Developers Helping Smart Cities Be Smarter

Thursday 10/17/19 09:00am
Posted By Ketal Gandhi
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By 2050 the world’s urban population is expected to nearly double, making urbanization one of the 21st century’s most transformative trends. Given this, cities all over the world are launching smart city initiatives to use technology solutions to continue to provide the same quality of life for its citizens, economic competitiveness for its businesses, and sustainability for the planet. In this blog we will look at some of the technology challenges cities say they are facing, how developers in the private sector can use their expertise to help, and some strategies on how developers can get involved.

Smart City Initiative Challenges

Cities launching smart city initiatives are now starting to understand they are lacking certain technical knowledge, and that success cannot be achieved in isolation. Many different stakeholders will need to collaborate to help make cities smarter. To meet their objectives, they are now looking for expertise in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, robotics, XR (VR/AR), edge computing, and even gaming.

Smart Cities Image

Smart city technologies that cities are looking for developer expertise in include:

  • IoT - Cities are very good at collecting data, but acting on that data is still quite new to them. Cities are looking for developers with in-depth knowledge of sensor technology, and the associated big data they produce, to provide actionable results.
  • Edge Computing - Data privacy is paramount as citizens are wary of how their data is used. Moving data collection to the edge helps protect personal data from being transmitted, so cities are looking for developers with edge computing experience.
  • Robotics and AI - Delivery of everything in a smart city – from documents to pizza – could be handled by mobile robots and drones. This could help cities that are trying to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, but they will need developers with robotics, AI, and ML expertise to make it a reality.
  • Gaming and XR - Cities are finding it challenging to get citizens to opt in to many mobile smart city initiatives because they do not want to be tracked, even if the results are beneficial to them. This is where developers with gamification and XR skills have the opportunity to shine by making it fun, interesting, and rewarding for citizens to engage.

How Developers Can Actually Help

To put all of this in perspective, let’s look at one of the most common initiatives many smart cities tackle: smart street lighting (LED and smart streetlights are projected to reach 89% and 42% of the total streetlight market, respectively, by 2026). Why are smart street lights important? Besides potentially saving cities over 50% in energy and labor costs, collectively they create the backbone of the ‘city as a platform’ with the power and connectivity that smart city applications need.

So, let’s take a look at the humble street light, and some of the opportunities it holds for developers with the right knowledge to help cities learn and be smarter:

Street Light Diagram

Walkable City: Networked video cameras using machine vision can gather a city-wide view of how people currently move within a city. By utilizing AI on all of the data collected over time, city planners can rework the city's urban infrastructure to increase walkability.

Sustainable City: Machine learning and image recognition that utilize edge computing (for privacy), can identify whether drivers through a city are local or pass-through traffic based on their license plates. This data can help planners understand how to curb traffic congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Playable City: Using Bluetooth, gamification, and XR, a city-wide interactive game with carefully crafted questions can help cities learn what people are doing, how they feel about where they live, work and travel, to gain valuable insights into its citizens’ satisfaction.


How Developers Can Get Involved

Although cities involved in smart city initiatives understand they need specialized assistance, they are not always tapped into the high-tech networks these specialists utilize. For developers that would like to get involved, here are some strategies to get in front of these initiatives:

  • Public Private Partnership (P3): Cities, who are often cash strapped and risk averse due to using public funds, are looking more and more at P3s for new initiatives as a way forward. Developers can approach cities with P3 proposals rather than relying on standard procurement procedures.
  • Smart City Committees: Smart city initiatives generally have multi-stakeholder committees to test out concepts and ideas and gather ongoing feedback. Joining these committees is a fantastic way to get involved.
  • Applying as a Vendor for Smart City Grants: Many cities apply for government funded grants to finance their initiatives and need to provide vendors lists in their proposals. Contact cities to see if there is a fit for your product to be added to their vendor list.
  • Attending City Sponsored Hackathons: Cities look for new ideas by holding sponsored hackathons. Participating in these can get your ideas in front of the right people.
  • Joining Corporate Alliances: Corporations are now connecting industry players of smart city solutions to accelerate projects. A good example of this is how Telensa is working with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. (QTI) to deliver streetlight-based smart city applications using smartphone AI technology in the Qualcomm® Smart Cities Accelerator Program.

Helping Cities Become Smarter

It is clear that the momentum of smart city initiatives is only going to grow, which means that the opportunities for developers to collaborate are sure to grow as well. Developers with the skills and experience that cities are looking for would be wise to take some time to explore what is happening in their cities and how to get involved. It’s through the efforts of our developer communities that can bring the concept of a smart city to actual implementation!