The concept of smart cities evolved in the early 2000s. The idea of a smart city involves a municipality that uses information and modern communication tools to increase efficiency and share information on ways of improving the city’s government services and the welfare of citizens.

The idea is that these cities would use technology to help reduce energy consumption and pollution. They would have more efficient transportation services and attract new citizens. In the early 2000s, many saw the idea of smart cities as a failure. While smart cites do have their issues, new technology may also help get them off the ground. Let’s take a look at some facts and possibilities.

How a Smart City Would Work

One of the problems smart cities face is that a lot of the work must be done out of sight, meaning users don’t see the changes being made at first. Many of the digital advances made in existing or emerging smart cities are invisible to the average citizen. The way these digital advances are implemented is not flashy, which means they may be seen as boring to the average person.

Experts say there are three phases to the evolution of a city into a smart city. The first is the data collection, the second is data processing and the third is taking action.

The first phase, data collection, is critical. To collect this data, the city must install sensors everywhere. These sensors take in all the factors of an environment. Everything in this phase needs to be monitored. Everything needs to be tested and collected. Everything needs to be quantified into potential future city developments.

Next comes data analysis. This phase is largely completed in the “back of the office,” meaning it isn’t as visual as the other phases. However, it may be one of the most important. In this phase, experts use data platforms, algorithms and data science to build correlations and causations. They use the data from the first phase to draw conclusions for the last phase. Then, they design models to help predict and test human behaviors.

Finally, the last phase is the thinking and implementing phase, where consumers finally see the difference. This phase implements real things to respond to the needs and wants of citizens, or the data analyzed in phase two. These responses may come in apps that focus on infrastructure, safety, convenience and efficiency. Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing platforms are examples of these apps that help respond to citizen needs. Uber and Lyft are examples of connected ride-sharing cars that are based on the potential transportation needs of the public.

Problems With Smart Cities

We’ve gone over how smart cities work and the planning that goes behind creating smart areas. Now, here are some issues with smart cities.

In phase one of planning a smart city, many sensors are needed to test all of the factors of consumer behavior and elements of the city. These sensors must be everywhere. A study by Lux Research, which is an innovation research firm, predicts over one trillion sensors could be deployed by 2020. This research leads to concerns about how these sensors will operate. Will we need over one trillion batteries to run them? Over one trillion wiring systems to help them function?

These sensors may take up too much power too. Without a huge new wireless power source, it seems as if there would not be enough power or a way of retrieving enough for more than one trillion sensors. There are also concerns on how these sensors will be put into the city’s infrastructure.

The next problem comes from the data analysis process itself, or phase two. Once the data is collected, what if it is interpreted in ways that favor one citizen over another or one group over another? Instead of creating a fantastic operating city, this technology could turn groups against each other and create a dystopia.

There must be a way to ensure all individuals get what they need from a smart city. There need to be smart leaders to interpret the data, make use of it wisely and be prepared to defend their analysis and choices.

The Future of Smart Cities

While “smart city” may be a term that has just played the role of a flashy political label, it seems as if smart city techniques are being used more and more. For example, in Toronto, a project is being implemented on the Toronto Waterfront. This project aims to solve transportation needs, allowing for more pedestrian and cyclist access. The project plans on using robots to transport mail and garbage. It will also create homes to be utilized by growing families.

Jobs like the Toronto Waterfront project seem promising, but it’s important to keep in mind the problems with smart cities. The idea that a smart city can solve the problems of modern cities is inaccurate. Smart cities won’t solve all problems of economic inequality or pollution. Keeping these issues in mind, however, may help some upcoming projects become truly “smart cities.”