Smart cities use multiple technologies to resolve some of the most complex challenges facing today’s cities. When implemented well, these technologies can truly make a difference in the lives of city dwellers.
In this article, we examine the various technologies involved – including VoIP – and how they can work together to bring about these desirable results.
The need for smart cities
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 80% of the population of the United States is urban. As cities get larger and more complex, their management and administration become all the more difficult. In recent years, this complexity has revealed the need for a better way to manage all of the logistics of the various urban systems and operations, and to optimize that management for the benefit of all aspects of the city.
Human analysis of various disparate systems in an entity as complex as a fast-growing city is no longer sufficient. A more dynamic and automated methodology of city management seems to be required. Enter the smart city.
Smart city basics
A smart city is a city that employs ICT (information and communications technology) in order to manage it more effectively, and to allow city officials to make more informed and responsible decisions and policies for the good of the city as a whole. This includes using ICT to automate and optimize the operation and management of systems such as municipal lighting, traffic signals, parking, and utilities, as well as using sensors to collect meaningful data that can be visualized and analyzed in real time and historically. It also includes the enabling of citizen engagement via various electronic platforms, allowing people to do things from reporting failures in municipal infrastructure to participating in electronic town meetings where individual voices can be heard.
Examples of application
Because of its complex nature, it’s not always easy to envision a smart city based on its definition. Some examples of smart city operation will be helpful in further understanding the concept. We can categorize these examples into various urban operation groups:
- Pedestrian and vehicular traffic
- Traffic signals and digital traffic signage can be centrally managed and can dynamically change based on vehicular traffic patterns to optimize the movement of vehicles and to minimize congestion.
- Parking management can be achieved with digital signing and parking sensors in order to guide drivers to free spaces, rather than have vehicles drive around looking for a spot, and contributing to congestion.
- Pedestrian traffic can be monitored using sensors to determine travel patterns in order to optimize the design of sidewalks and pedestrian paths within a city.
- Utilities and waste management
- Smart metering and smart grids can be used to optimize electrical power usage within a city, ensuring efficient use of electricity.
- Failures in utilities, such as water leaks, can be automatically detected with sensors in particular areas, automatically sending out repair crews to the affected area as quickly as possible.
- Waste pickup can be optimized by the use of sensors in garbage bins so that only those that are full will be picked up. Systems can provide the most efficient route for waste pickup vehicles based on which bins need emptying and which do not, thus reducing traffic that is often associated with these vehicles and saving both fuel and time.
- Sensors of all types can be used to monitor various aspects of a city, including:
- Hyper-local weather sensors that detect temperature, humidity, wind, precipitation, and even sunlight, providing an accurate record of environmental conditions in very specific areas.
- Sensors can monitor sound and pollution levels, keeping tabs on air quality and sound pollution. These can also be useful in pinpointing environmental violators more quickly and successfully.
- Emergency response can be vastly improved by using sensors to detect seismic events, floods, or severe weather, allowing emergency services to respond sooner and be informed of conditions in the affected areas.
- Citizen engagement
- Using large-scale collaboration platforms, citizens can be directly involved in affecting the decision-making process of city administrators and elected officials. This can be done via specially designed apps for mobile devices, which allow citizens to participate on various levels, but also via collaboration tools that enable asynchronous collaboration by citizens on a large scale.
It’s all in the data
These are just some of the most common areas in which smart city applications can be employed. One of the most important aspects of these applications is the fact that most of them accumulate data. This data, collected from many different sources, is valuable because many of today’s analytical systems are able to find correlations between data points that would not otherwise be perceivable. Thus, it may be discovered that seemingly independent urban projects, when coordinated and employed together, may bring about even greater results than each one would individually.
The role of VoIP in the smart city
ICT technologies enable the smart city. Wireless communication such as 5G and LoRaWAN, and innovations such as the cloud, IoT, and edge computing are just some of the tools used to make the smart city concept possible.
However, one aspect that cannot be stressed enough is that a smart city exists to serve the citizen. As such, technologies that engage citizens and enable them to interact effectively with the city itself are of utmost importance. That’s where VoIP technologies based on the SIP protocol come in.
We’ve focused a lot on automated machine-to-machine communication, but VoIP is primarily a human interaction technology that enables communication between people. But it doesn’t only encompass telephony; it is also an integral part of collaboration systems.
We often think of VoIP, SIP, and collaboration tools as something used to interconnect conference rooms with remote participants with video and other channels of communication. But larger-scale collaboration is also valid and necessary. Such systems usually include things like:
- Asynchronous collaboration, which allows each citizen to post their contribution in various forms (text, video, images, sound, etc.), much like they would on a social media platform, allowing others to see those posts on their own time and to respond to them.
- Town hall meetings, which can be hosted live at a municipal level, but that also allow citizens to participate remotely by viewing the proceedings and responding in various ways, including moderated questions and responses.
- Specialized city apps that deliver all available channels of communication between citizens and city officials, as well as between citizens themselves. Often, many of the most innovative and useful ideas come from the maturing of viewpoints and thoughts shared directly by urban citizens.
Although the concept of a smart city has been around for over a decade, it is still considered by many to be in its infancy. As technologies improve, and as the implementation of the applications increases, the potential of the smart city continues to grow, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for the modern city dweller.
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