Some 4 billion people live in cities now, and more than 6 billion—at least two thirds of the world’s population—will live in urban areas by 2050, according to the United Nations. To deal with the challenges that brings, cities will need sophisticated technologies to monitor, analyze, and quickly respond to traffic tie-ups, citizen complaints, and lots more. And they must do so in the face of budgetary constraints and other obstacles.
The IEEE Smart Cities Initiative has been collaborating with a number of municipalities to develop and deploy such technologies. The initiative’s first so-called core city, Guadalajara, Mexico, is getting ready to host the first IEEE International Smart Cities Conference, from 25 to 28 October. To be designated a core city, a municipality must be able to build on existing plans to develop a smart city, have the funding to carry out those plans, be willing to share its knowledge and experience, and form multidisciplinary working groups. Guadalajara is home to Mexico’s first smart-city development project, the Ciudad Creativa Digital (CCD).
“Our Guadalajara project is in its second year, reaching its final phase,” says IEEE Senior Member Roberto Saracco, a keynote speaker at the conference and chair of the IEEE Future Directions Committee, which oversees the initiative. “We plan to support each core city for two years until it is self-sustaining, and help to connect it with other cities seeking smart growth. After that, all our core cities will remain part of the initiative, and we will maintain a presence through local IEEE chapters.
“The cities we are helping to shape will take time to reach their goals, and they need to continue evolving even after our programs end and their goals are reached,” he continues. “The process will be never ending.”
THE TIME IS RIGHT
The smart cities movement benefits from a confluence of new technologies and the need to replace aging infrastructure.
“This is a great opportunity to incorporate Internet-connected sensors in roads, underground water and sewer pipes, and electric power lines,” says Victor M. Larios, the conference program cochair and a member of Guadalajara’s Smart City Council. “Sensors and data analysis will help us understand the city’s dynamics and behaviors, and optimize the city’s subsystems to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants.”
Cellphones already act as cost-free sensors, providing information on a person’s location, mobility, mode of transportation (vehicles move faster than pedestrians, for instance, and buses make periodic stops), and even demographic data inferred from the type of phone.
“These data will change our understanding of a living city,” Saracco says, “showing what kinds of communities are being established, how people are getting together, and how they’re connecting. Of course, there are privacy issues, and the municipality needs to protect privacy within a socially acceptable regulatory framework.
“Much of what can be done to make a better city depends on the culture of its citizens. We want to help the citizens adapt their culture, not just choose and deploy technology for them.”
SUSTAINING A SMART CITY
Joining Saracco as keynote presenters are J. Roberto Boisson de Marca, 2014 IEEE president; Charles G. Sheridan, codirector of Intel Labs’ Energy and Sustainability Lab research program; and Derrick de Kerckhove, who teaches the sociology of digital culture at the University of Naples Federico II.
The conference is expected to draw nearly 300 academic, industrial, and government researchers from around the world. About 150 papers will be presented in nine tracks covering technologies, economics, data collection and analytics, privacy, and quality of life.
One focus will be on establishing the metrics needed to objectively measure a city’s progress toward becoming smarter. “You can ask, ‘Is the city better off,’ but unless you have metrics to measure against, it is impossible to say, impossible even to see what changes actually result from the programs,” Saracco says. “With suitable metrics, citizens can ask, ‘Here’s where we are; where do we want to be in five years?’”
When you can answer that in a quantifiable way—like kilometers of optical fiber installed or total bandwidth available—you can work out the amount of money needed to get there, he adds, “and then figure how to apportion what’s actually available.”
“Choices are rarely about technology but more about economics and social impact,” he says.
Conference organizers say that panel sessions will discuss technology’s benefits for residents and workers from diverse cultures, and the cross-disciplinary education needed to develop smart city technologies and strategies. Workshops covering several subjects not in the regular tracks will, they hope, encourage attendees to develop ideas by participating in presentations and brainstorming.
Tutorials and an exhibition of technologies are planned, as well as a “hackathon” aimed at students and entrepreneurs. Participants will get two days to produce mobile apps to solve a problem.
Conferences also are being planned for the other core cities: Trento, Italy, and Wuxi, China. And applications are now being accepted for the next two core cities. The deadline is 14 August.
A new category, IEEE-affiliated smart city, has been created for municipalities that want to participate in the initiative but can’t meet all the requirements.
“We need cities that have strong support from their governments, local universities, industries and, of course, from the IT community, which will be doing most of the work,” says IEEE Member Gilles Betis, the initiative’s chair.