Smart Cities

Wildly ambitious, potential IoT hubs are a popular banner for tech companies. But they’re often short on details—and their progress is difficult to quantify

The concept of the “smart city” has already gone through a number of iterations in a short lifespan. Many of them are wildly ambitious, and others seem practical but are short on planning or details. Thus, it’s fair to wonder where these idea-implants stand with many of the companies who either invested or participated in smart city initiatives over the past five years.

In July 2017, Siemens announced it would attempt to make a “smart nation” out of one of the most important economic centers in the world: Singapore. On July 11, 2017, the company inaugurated its first large-scale application of MindSphere—Siemens’ open, cloud-based operating system for the Internet of Things. The technological hotbed serves as fertile ground in Siemens’ efforts to make the Southeast Asian city-state a “smart nation.” At the digitalization hub, Siemens’ stated goal is to develop and offer new digital applications and expects to employ 300 digital experts by 2022. The company sees data-driven cities as an important step in modernized infrastructure (it’s not alone).

As of late January 2019, the MindSphere project seems to be moving along fairly well: Siemens christened “MindSphere World”—a new IoT association—in the Asia-Pacific region on January 30 along with 15 other companies. “It is the first independent association [in the region] that brings together various stakeholders to form an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) community, and will support its members in developing and improving IIoT solutions,” said a Siemens press release January 30. “The group of end-users, system integrators, developers, academic institutes and consultants will work closely together in directing the future of IIoT in this region. In the months ahead, the association will be holding events and workshops for members to discuss and share knowledge of various IIoT technologies and their applications in business processes. The association will also continue to welcome new members.”

Suez and Optimatics offer a look at the efforts and difficulties surrounding water infrastructure in smart city proposals. In October 2018, the companies mapped out potential plans to join smart cities with digitalization of water infrastructure. The companies’ Optimizer model combines the performance of metaheuristic methods with those of hydraulic modelling tools in order to calculate thousands of scenarios in only a few hours, forming what it labeled “a true breakthrough” with traditional methods. With this new multi-criteria approach, Optimizer helps the water and wastewater network managers to take the most efficient technical and economic decisions, but also to produce significant gains going from 10 to 30%. The system initially had marked success, from cities like San Diego to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The overall of the smart city concept is considered to be the “backbone of connectivity”. Its composition is primarily the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics and smartphone apps. Sensors are installed within a city’s infrastructure—roads, transit vehicles, electrical grid towers, traffic lights, sewage lines—and local governments collect data to monitor and manage city resources for optimal efficiency, energy conservation and cost savings. The ultimate goals, according to this 2018 Deloitte report, are “better city services and a higher quality of life.”

When Honeywell moved its headquarters to Charlotte this past winter, it cited technology goals that included smart cities as one of the major reasons for its need to spread out (tax benefits were another). The company, along with other traditionally appliance and workforce-driven manufacturers like 3M, is all-in on connectivity and digitalization:

Perhaps of most relevance in the industry standards’ response to these new technologies, as it gives a more realistic vision of implementation. In March 2018, NEMA released updated standards: The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) published its 2018 edition of the reliable Electrical Standards & Products Guide March 1.

The association, whose members account for 360,000 American jobs in more than 7,000 facilities covering every state, stated at the time: “Our industry produces $106 billion shipments of electrical equipment and medical imaging technologies per year with $36 billion exports,” NEMA’s mission statement says. Current strategic initiatives from the group are the Internet of Things, smart cities, and workforce development. It also published another guide—this one more intensive—on Wednesday. NEMA SM 1-2017, Guide to General-Purpose Synchronous Motors without Excited Rotor Windings, covers general-purpose synchronous motors without excited rotor windings, and provides design metrics for polyphase alternating-current permanent magnet motors rated 500 horsepower and less.

And ABB, as indicated from recent moves within its executive structure, has motioned towards accelerating its Smart Cities initiatives for a few years, now, as evidence at Hannover-Messe 2019. The Austrian industrial-tech conglomerate brought smart city technology to the HM19 show floor. This infrastructure technology includes city communication platforms, grid solutions, water networks, transportation, buildings, and district heating and cooling. “Cities around the world are challenged to sustainably accommodate increasing populations, or to become more sustainable, competitive and livable,” the company says. “ABB products and solutions are at the heart of a city’s critical infrastructure, relied upon for everything from the supply of power, water and heat, to the automation of the factories and buildings we work in.”

In a March 6 article, Futhurithmic’s Christine Wong dove into the progress of smart cities:

“Now that some smart city projects are mature enough to garner deeper analysis, some impressive results have been reported:

  • Louisville, KY: After sensors were installed on asthma inhalers to alert patients of bad air quality and help them track their asthma attacks, emergency inhaler use dropped by 82 percent in one year.
  • Beijing: Air pollution levels fell 20 percent after the city deployed sensors to monitor pollution sources and adjusted traffic flows and construction projects accordingly.
  • Dallas, TX: A pilot project providing west-end businesses with pedestrian traffic data boosted foot traffic in the neighbourhood by 13 percent, increased revenue at area merchants by 12 percent and reduced local crime by six percent.
  • Kansas City, MO: Public access to real-time data on parking availability, traffic patterns and streetcar locations (combined with the installation of intelligent streetlights, info kiosks and free Wi-Fi) saves the city an estimated $4 million per year in operational and energy costs.

Last year, researchers at McKinsey Global Institute estimated smart cities have the potential to reduce worldwide emergency response times by up to 35 percent, commute times by up to 20 percent, crime by up to 40 percent and water consumption by as much as 30 percent.”

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