What is the objective of the smart city?
Is the city primarily looking to cut costs, for instance easing pressure on budgets by reducing energy bills? Does the city aspire to be an innovator, introducing smart technology to enhance quality of life for residents? Or is there a real hands-on challenge to resolve urgently - like easing congestion at certain choke points on busy roads, or encouraging people to use public transport by introducing real-time information at bus stops? These objectives, by no means mutually exclusive, help planners define expectations and identify the best way forward.
What are the quick wins?
Making an entire city smart is a major, long-term challenge. Yet there are many scenarios where smart technology can be deployed on a more limited scale to deliver valuable quick wins. From street lights to networked traffic signals, smart parking and waste collection points that report when they are full, M2M-enabled devices and systems can make a huge difference to how the city operates.
- Keep traffic moving
Take traffic congestion, for example. According to a study by Roland Berger, congestion in the world's biggest conurbations costs more than $266 billion every year. A smart city can reduce these costs. Digital billboards, for instance, can provide real-time updates on which city areas are particularly busy, giving drivers the opportunity to pick an alternate route. Likewise, the timing of traffic signals can be adjusted to optimise the flow of vehicles at busy periods and keep people moving.
Not that it's always a question of keeping moving. There is an acute shortfall of parking lots across India, particularly in major cities and central business districts, resulting in rampant indiscriminate parking that impedes traffic flow. Smart city technology can be an excellent solution, with M2M-enabled parking spaces transmitting data to a cloud-based system which keeps a record of which spaces are currently available. Drivers can use a special smartphone app such as the one by Vodafone to find a spot close to their destination, and can even pay for parking using their smartphone. With this new system, people spend less time circling the block, looking in vain for a few metres of kerb space, and don't have to rifle through their pockets looking for spare change for the meter.
With traffic already a major cause of poor air quality in cities, more e-mobility is widely regarded as an imperative both to reduce air pollution and cut carbon emissions. The Chinese government wants to get five million e-cars onto the roads, and a key prerequisite to achieve this ambitious target will be to make it as easy and as worry-free as possible for people to recharge their vehicles. However, existing e-car owners in China are reportedly having difficulty locating readily available charging facilities, which are extremely limited to begin with. Fortunately, a latest smart e-mobility solution developed by Vodafone and its partners is the answer. The system lets drivers utilize a smartphone app to locate the closest charge station, and can unlock the station via text messaging. What's more, they can even pay for their battery recharge through their mobile phone bill.
- Smartening the municipal services
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