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The essential elements for building the next era of cities
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The essential elements for building the next era of cities

Smart cities have incredible potential to transform our everyday lives, but as the old saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day." To harness the benefits that the convergence of IoT, edge computing, AI and 5G technologies offer to combat challenges like overcrowding, public safety issues and climate change, city leaders will need to prioritize their efforts on the most pressing urban challenges, work closely with policymakers and leverage public-private partnerships to re-envision and build truly intelligent cities from the ground up.

Benefits of technology convergence

IoT was at the center of many of the early smart-city applications, by equipping items like traffic lights, parking spaces and smart grids with simple sensors that could capture and relay data to identify new efficiencies and enhance daily life. In the last decade, applications of smart technology have grown in sophistication, enhanced by the cloud, machine learning and data analytics. Now with the rise of next-generation technologies like AI, 5G and edge computing, we are at yet another inflection point, with the potential to make once-futuristic visions of cities into reality.

By converging these technologies with IoT sensors at the edge, real-time interpretation of activities has been enabled, facilitating immediate reactions as well as predictive actions. For example, in the future, if you find yourself in a car accident, intelligent sensors will assess the situation and direct an ambulance to your precise location.

Addressing key urban growth challenges

The potential benefits of technology alone in unlocking the future of cities and transportation may not be enough to drive action and investment; accelerating the digital transformation of cities should be catalyzed through national prioritization. Thankfully, improving transportation is a key U.S. national priority. The recently passed $550 billion infrastructure bill will be the largest federal investment in public infrastructure ever. It will catalyze substantial benefits for Americans, from repairing damaged bridges and roadways to increasing access to clean drinking water and high-speed internet to creating modernized public transit powered by clean energy. Similar infrastructure investments from other governments across the globe echo the shared belief that investments in the building blocks of our communities will play a key role in building the next era of cities.

As cities emerge from the pandemic, the key challenges they face will remain consistent: mobility, public safety and sustainability. These pressures are creating the motivation to adopt new, transformative technologies for cities, unlike any previously seen in human history.

Mobility will become even more strained as the population of cities continues to expand. The U.N. has predicted that the demand for mobility will grow by 2.6 times by 2050. Efforts to improve mobility need not be billion-dollar initiatives; there remain many ways we can improve transit today, such as making intersections safer and more efficient, optimizing traffic management as a citywide system, implementing smart parking, equipping cameras and sensors within road infrastructure and providing real-time information about road conditions. Together, these small actions to improve mobility can result in a big impact by driving greater equity and access to resources. Additionally, more efficient transportation for goods will be part of the solution to the current supply-chain challenges by improving the functioning of our marine ports, airports and fleet systems.

Public safety has also taken on a new dimension during the pandemic as personal health and safety became dependent on the actions of others in the community. Citizens looked to their city leaders to help keep them safe, not only by implementing pandemic protocols like social distancing and mask wearing but also through the adoption of purpose-built technologies such as AI-enabled contact-tracing technology, which is helping to provide a much-needed sense of safety and control during uncertain times. It is clear that public safety must be considered as an essential part of any smart-city strategy and a priority that the public increasingly appears to expect.

Sustainability has also grown as a key priority. Pew Research Center reports that last year, for the first time, nearly as many Americans claimed that protecting the environment should be a top policy priority as those who said the same of strengthening the economy. Thankfully, new solutions have emerged that are helping to protect the environment such as clean energy, the expansion of circular economies and creating new city green spaces and vertical forests. More companies are also stepping up to reduce their impact, such as Intel's commitment in 2020 to achieve 100% renewable power and zero total waste to landfill by 2030. This stepped-up focus on sustainability is also creating new business and economic opportunities for both public and private concerns and the vast number of people they will employ.

Smart cities are built on collaboration

Ultimately, it will take a village to create the new generation of smart cities. City leaders should continue to embrace public-private partnerships to jointly collaborate on the best solutions for their needs. Private industry must also work together, building open platforms to stimulate greater innovation and competition. As Intel's OpenVINO toolkit and Smart Edge software demonstrate, open architectures can lead to faster deployments and greater accessibility to technology.

Building thriving megacities will require creating an environment for change, supported by technologies like IoT, AI, 5G and edge computing working in tandem. If we have learned anything in the last couple of years, it is the incredible power inherent in our ability to innovate and adapt in the face of adversity. The pandemic has helped spur many businesses to greater transformation and technology adoption, and now these technologies can provide the catalyst to enable a brighter and more resilient future for all.

If you are interested in learning more on these topics, I encourage you to download our e-book, " Reimagining Life in a Post-Pandemic World," or visit the Intel website here.