By Victor AI, Founder & CEO, Terminus Group
Smart cities are the future, yet they are increasingly becoming a part of our present. So, as authorities and municipalities, around the world, look for ways to improve the quality of life for their citizens and enhance economic development, what are the challenges of our future urbanization and what should we care and know about them, as an ever-increasing number of the world's population live in urban areas?
According to a recent report by Allied Market Research, the global smart city market will grow from USD160 billion, in 2021, to USD708 billion by 2031, the result of a compound annual growth rate of 16.2%. This rapid growth is testament to the fact that the concept of smart cities – first mooted in the early 1990s, is not only gaining traction, but it has already become a dominant trend in urban planning and development in the first quarter of the 21st century.
Simply put, smart cities are urban areas that use advanced technology to provide better services to residents and citizens of towns and cities. This often includes artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to enhance livability and well-being of people living in these areas. However, reducing environmental impact, and optimizing resource use and waste management are often topics that are overshadowed in the conversation, as "traditional" forms of urbanization tend to be associated with negative impacts on a city's green-belt and, therefore, seen as contrary to efforts that relate to conservation of nature or reducing a carbon footprint.
The truth is that smart city platforms, such as Terminus Group's TacOS 3.0, are not just about new builds but can also be as effective as an overlayed, digital twinning, reaching across existing urban infrastructures. The term "smart city" may not hold a universally agreed upon definition; however, it can be said that it encompasses a wide range of applications and initiatives. These include smart transportation, smart energy, smart buildings, smart waste management, smart water management, and smart public safety. By leveraging the power of technology, smart cities aim to improve the quality of life for citizens, enhance economic growth, and are very much front-and-center in the effort to create a sustainable future for all.
One of the main drivers of the growth of smart cities is the increasing adoption of IoT devices. IoT devices are connected devices that communicate with each other and exchange information, making them ideal for use in smart city applications. According to GSMA Intelligence, the number of connected consumer devices reached approximately 8.7 billion, in 2022, with IoT devices accounting for the majority of these. These numbers alone present a massive opportunity for smart city initiatives, as these devices can be used to collect digital information on everything from traffic patterns to air quality, thereby helping city planners to make better informed decisions about how to optimize services and manage the upkeep of existing and future infrastructure.
Another key driver of smart cities' growth is the increasing demand for sustainable urban development. According to the United Nations, more than half of the world's population currently lives in urban areas, and this is expected to rise to 68 percent by 2050. Of course, this process of rapid urbanization puts enormous pressure on cities to provide basic services such as housing, transportation, water, and energy infrastructure. Smart cities are seen as a way to address these challenges by providing more efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective solutions.
Despite the many benefits smart cities can and will offer, there are some who voice concerns about their impact on society. One of the main concerns is the information gathering that is needed in order to make these urban environments operate at optimal efficiency and convenience. Questions related to increased management often lead to discussions on privacy, but it should be said that the technology deployed is very much down to the prevailing laws of a country and working hand-in-hand with state and municipal organizations is very much how the discussions should be structured. In doing so, a balance is attained between the potential limits and deployment of certain technology, and in adherence to any local, regional or sovereign laws.
Essentially, while digital information can be used to improve services and enhance public safety, it is up to the countries or cities themselves to have appropriate safeguards in place that mean the technology is deployed and used only within the parameters of the law.
Another trap that authorities and municipalities need to consider is not to view smart cities as a "luxury" item in that smart city initiatives are not primarily focused on more affluent areas. In order to address social inequities, a ubiquitous use of a city-wide platform needs to be in place, so as to ensure that there does not become a two-tier system of "digital city advantages" and more "analogue" low-income neighborhoods. This would only exacerbate disparities in the provision and access to services and resources. To avoid this, smart city initiatives must be designed to benefit all citizens, regardless of their socio-economic status, and this is precisely the philosophy Terminus Group's AI CITY platforms adopt with view of "technology for all".
We need not look too far into the future to see how smart cities will develop, as we have already seen how many cities across the world are increasingly embracing the concept and it will undoubtedly continue to play an increasingly important role on current and future urban development. As the world becomes more urbanized, cities will need to find new and innovative ways to provide basic services and infrastructure to their citizens. Smart cities offer a way to do this, through the use of technology and citizen engagement – from optimizing resource usage, improving efficiencies of traffic flow management, and enhancing the overall quality of life and convenience for its citizens.
At Terminus Group, we believe that in order for smart cities to succeed, they need to be designed with a clear focus on the needs and priorities of citizens. In many cases, this means involving citizens in the planning and implementation of smart city initiatives and ensuring that the benefits of these initiatives are distributed equitably across all segments of society. For our part, Terminus Group, has geared all its R&D towards working on a cross-collaborative approach. This means involvement from academia, industry and experience of related projects in cities and urban environments, all of which place people at the heart of the need and demand categories.