Smart Cities: Challenges and opportunities of digital transformation
People make one of the pillars of a smart city while technology infrastructure and data form another two. Before moving on to the topic, let's define two terms frequently used – the Smart City and the Internet of Things.
A smart city is an urban, innovative city that uses technology to provide more efficient ecosystem and services, in order to improve the quality of life of citizens. It evolves when smart solutions are integrated across all segments of a society.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a digital revolution of smart or sensor based devices connected (sometimes to each other) through the internet. In layman’s terms, it is a giant network of connected things. In other words, it includes any object that can be turned on and off, communicated with and queried for information at regular intervals – all through the internet. E.g. Picturise a chain starting from a cell phone connected to a car which is linked to a GPS and so on and so forth.
A physical object is essentially converted into a digital data generator. One such chain would produce reams of data every day. A whole city would create a massive amount that can be utilised to build a virtual blueprint of the virtual and physical ecosystem. By combining the two, a smart city and IoT, we open up a plethora of opportunities and their inherent challenges.
Opportunity in Every Sector
Digital technology has the ability to follow an exponential growth track. For a better understanding on how digital can contribute at all levels, let’s look at a few examples:
Real-time tracking: From school buses to field workforce to on-ground fleets, with the help of IoT; keeping track of any object or person (with permissions or requirement) at any given point will become common-place.
Health: Vital statistics of a body can be measured by tools while a person lives his or her day-to-day routine. It will calculate when an appointment with a doctor will be essential and alert the user accordingly.
Security: Use of sensors and wireless communication can alert authorities at the time of a break-in. Furthermore, a device can take prompt action unlike a human guard.
A digitised smart city means sensors to detect rise in air pollution (or any type of pollution), to measure the flow of traffic and suggest better routes to on-road vehicles or data to make machines more efficient and productive. The prospects are endless but ensuring that the full potential of each is reaped is the major challenge for a smart city.
Challenge at Every Level
The most obvious challenge of a smart city would be unemployment. As more and more devices get connected, existing jobs would ebb away. However, the introduction of new skills required for developing and maintaining a smart city will rapidly evolve.
Privacy could be compromised in some situations. Hacking into one object would mean data of the whole chain is available to the perpetrator. Society as a whole will be far more susceptible to cyber-crime than it is now, so devices and systems would need to be protected through both hardware and software.
Ensuring that every member of a smart city avails the benefits equally would be a crucial task. Not all would have access to the digital connection and some would not be tech savvy enough. “Social cohesion” will become indispensable.
Dependency would increase multi-fold. If even one point is compromised due to an attack or failure, the whole system could be handicapped. Redundancies would be a norm.
Smart cities are part of the inevitable future for mankind. The challenges with staying connected may seem daunting, but the opportunities counterbalance them. Change is inevitable, change is constant, adaptation is the key.
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