Cities are highly complex structures with millions of independent moving parts, not unlike the human body. However, while the human body is equipped to allocate resources intelligently to maintain and perform repairs autonomously to ensure optimal efficiency, cities have to rely on multiple reactive decisions that are usually late and suboptimal. As a result, modern metropolitans have become wasteful and even harmful to its occupants, whose quality of life have progressively become worse with each passing year.
This is where a sensing city, or a smart city, comes in. Using a combination of smart infrastructure, a sensing city is given the ability of collecting and analysing data to monitor itself and perform remedial actions on its own, typically with the help of a small group of human administrators.
A sensing city is a city which is capable of managing itself in a safe and sustainable manner by incorporating all of its smart and legacy infrastructures into a network. Using intelligent sensors, analytics and data logged by humans, a sensing city will be able to make swift and accurate decisions even in the most densely populated and hectic population centres.
In a period where resources have becoming increasingly scarce even as population and pollution continue to increase at unprecedented rates in large urban areas, sensing cities will play a critical role in ensuring the safety, comfort and sustainability of citizens.
Real time analytics and monitoring will lead to improvements and stability in public transport, utility supply, energy consumption and even law enforcement. Mundane but resource intensive tasks such as inspections, licensing or permit issuances, for instance, can be performed remotely with significantly improved efficiency.
However, to wide scale implementation of infrastructure to create sensing cities are reliant on several other technologies, namely,
(i) Neural networks managed by an artificial intelligence which are capable of analysing huge swaths of information involving millions of data points and making reasoned decisions
(ii) Huge computing power in the form of quantum computing to run the neural networks.
Beyond these two factors, sensing cities will also require extensive installation of infrastructure such as cameras, sensors, and ultra-high bandwidth networks.
There are many cities around the world which are in the midst of implementing partial sensing solutions, including
1. Smart grids, automated waste collection systemsand real-time energy monitoring pilots in Smart Kalasatama district in Finland
2. An adaptive transportation management and carbon emission reduction systems in Seattle
3. Implementation of integrated multi-modal initiatives to reduce the burden on public services in Milton Keynes, England
There are two other more ambitious projects which are currently in the works, namely
Singapore’s plan to become the first Smart Nation in world through dozens of government initiatives which began at the turn of the century
Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs plan to develop Toronto’s industrial waterfront into a smart hub with integrated management network, self-driving cars, robot mailmen, and much more.
While the idea of sensing cities may seem too farfetched to many, scientists believe that they will be a critical part of our future. So if you’re already worried about the privacy aspects of the automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras on British roads, be prepared to become even more worried over the coming decades.