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Cities Partner Insights

Smart Cities Initiatives Gaining Momentum

(Image: metamorworks/iStock/Getty Images)

Anyone who has endured a drive at a snail’s pace across any major city understands that cities are at a crisis point. Urban overcrowding, crumbling infrastructure, never-ending traffic jams, poor air quality, chronically delayed public transport, and other daily indignities are having a corrosive effect on society.

With more than half of the world’s population already living in urban environments, now is the time for technology leaders to think about how to make cities smarter, more efficient and more enjoyable. Automobile companies, futurists, and city planners are counting on technology to create smarter cities that can alleviate problems before they occur.

“Smart City” is an umbrella term that generally refers to a municipality that harnesses information and communications technologies to improve its citizens’ lives. Technologies such as IoT, AI and automation are going to impact the way we work, live, and play in tomorrow’s smart cities.

For example, the city of Toronto is working with Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, to develop a smart neighborhood. To be called Quayside, it will eventually expand across 800 acres along Toronto’s eastern waterfront, one of North America’s largest areas of underdeveloped urban land.

Alphabet’s plan includes: using new construction methods to make housing and retail space more affordable, substituting self-driving, shared electric vehicles for private cars, designing buildings to reduce energy consumption and landfill waste, improving the design of public spaces, and offering ubiquitous digital connectivity to encourage civic participation in the development of new ideas.

One key to building a Smart City is more efficient energy usage and this is one area we are focused on at Celestica. We are working on energy solutions that will allow entities to store power, regardless of the generation source, and then feed the energy back into the grid when needed.

In Coimbatore, India, the city is installing “smart benches,” each equipped with solar panels that provide shade and generate power that is stored in batteries. The benches serve as a place for residents to charge their devices and power a router that provides free Wi-Fi. The stored power is also used to monitor air quality, humidity and light the area in the evenings. And, low-tech as it may be, residents can sit on the bench too.

‘HERE,’ the in-vehicle navigation system owned by Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, is integrating data obtained through a car’s multiple sensors, cameras and the internet over a 4G network, and using it to alert other drivers to upcoming road hazards, traffic, weather, and accidents. The system is so precise — able to measure a vehicle’s position within inches — that a driver can be told in which specific lane to drive to minimize travel time.

To ease parking problems in cities throughout the U.S., companies such as INRIX are gathering data from parking structures, in-road sensors and even passing cars to determine where parking is available, helping drivers to find the least expensive and closest spots. This reduces travel time, pollution, fuel, and stress.

In downtown Los Angeles, Westwood (home of UCLA), and soon Hollywood, road sensors alert drivers to vacant parking meters. And last November, the city joined the University of Southern California’s Smart City Consortium, with plans to eventually deploy an Internet of Things system that will encourage both individuals and companies to feed device data that can be used to manage energy consumption, air quality, leak detection, and even potentially give firefighters the floor-by-floor layout of a burning building.

These are just a few examples of how disruptive new technologies are redefining the future of how we live, work, and play. Initiatives like these have the power to change the way that our cities are designed and built. They will make our lives better, our commutes shorter, and our outdoor spaces more inviting.

Rob Mionis is president and CEO of Celestica. This article was prepared in partnership with Celestica. It is the first of a three-part series focused on Smart Cities, Disruption to Supply Chains, and Digital Factories.

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