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Just what is a smart city?

Matt Hamblen | Oct. 2, 2015
There many examples, and some very nebulous definitions.

The theory behind happiness meters is that, if municipal officials can capture data from citizens about what it's like to live in a city, "people will be more successful and take care of the community better," Piva said. However, he acknowledged, "it's a hard ROI to measure and takes lots of different touchpoints."

A working definition of smart city

Ask just about any city official or technologist working for a city, and you are likely to get many different examples of a smart city. A strict definition is even harder to nail down.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, took a stab at a comprehensive definition but only after first jabbing at the broad ways the concept is used. "'Smart city' is one of those all-encompassing terms that everyone defines however they want," he said.

But then, he added, "Really, a smart city is about having sensor data that then gets used to create actions. You can define a smart city as a city with better managed infrastructure that is variable, based on input of data and adjustments of the results to best utilize resources or improve safety."

Piva and others might add that a city could use the data to improve the happiness of its visitors, residents and workers.

Gold added, "The ultimate goals of smart cities are power management, reducing pollution footprints, increasing public safety, or offering improved services to residents. The downside is that it takes investment infrastructure, and most cities don't have a lot of extra dollars to invest. But it's coming in small steps in many places."

Vendors are lining up

In addition to big tech companies like IBM, Cisco, GE, Intel and others, there are hundreds of smaller vendors of hardware, software and apps that want to cash in on the smart city phenomenon.

In Kansas City, Cisco partner Sensity System, a provider of high-tech outdoor lighting, is installing LED streetlights equipped with sensors that can be dimmed automatically for precise ambient light conditions. While city officials haven't said what they expect to spend on the expensive new LED lighting, Sensity has stated the city stands to save $4 million a year with the new approach.

KC station sign
Kansas City's 2.2-mile streetcar line, coming next year, sits in the center of an innovation district that will include smart city elements like free Wi-Fi, station interactive kiosks and sensors to guide traffic and control streetlights. Credit: Matt Hamblen

Sensity has big ambitions for the world's billions of streetlights and has created technology called Light Sensory Networks that turns an LED streetlight into a platform for data and video for blossoming Internet of Things networks. Each LED street lamp can become a sensor-equipped smart device with a unique IP address to serve as a node in a broadband network, often wirelessly. That smart device can power other smart devices, like video sensors or Wi-Fi access points, to support parking, surveillance or industrial applications, such as systems that tell city snowplows when and where to salt or plow snow.

 

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