Perhaps one of the most exciting areas of IoT development is the smart city. Let's look at what that means and what the future might hold...

The British Standards Institute (BSI) has this to say about how it sees smart cities... “The effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens". That’s all good but let's add some substance to this. How is this integration going to help deliver sustainability, prosperity and inclusivity? 

Sustainability. Data from our smart cities will play a huge role in making city life more sustainable. By measuring obvious impactors such as traffic, air quality, public transport usage and reliability we can gain insight into how we're using energy, when and how we can decrease energy usage through efficiency and what the impact on quality of life may be. Imagine we have enough data about traffic flow through the smart city to be able to adjust a smart road system throughout the day to account for busy periods, reduce vehicle idle time by keeping traffic moving or identifying the best times to carry out certain municipal tasks. The ways in which data and knowledge can drive decisions towards sustainability are infinite.

Prosperity. Increasing efficiency is one clear way to improve prosperity. For example, if your sat-nav system could take you to the nearest available parking space to your destination, rather than just directing you to the actual destination, wouldn't that be good? But we can be smarter than that, what if the space is taken by the time you get there? Failure, so let’s take control. Let's imagine your sat-nav not only knows where that space is but the system has reallocated that parking space to you. No one else is being directed to that specific space. We have an intelligent parking management system making every single journey that bit more efficient. We're saving time and energy with this efficiency improvement. Multiply that by many, many efficiencies and it's easy to see how a smart city could be a lot more productive and therefore more prosperous.

Add smart buildings into our smart city and we gain even more. Having data about the shopping mall at your fingertips, for example. How many people are in the mall? Is it busy? Can I park near the lift, I have something big to collect? I also want to go to the gym today and I need to go to the library. Imagine being able to time each of these activities to make it as easy as possible for you and as energy efficient as possible.

Inclusivity. All these incremental improvements help with inclusivity as well. Making all the data publicly accessible in such a way that we help those who are likely not as able to integrate. If you're a wheel chair user, knowing whether there's going to be space on that next bus would be very useful. If the driver knew you were waiting it might help him to prepare, asking the push chair user to collapse it in advance, for example. What if the bus is really crowded but the driver can see there's another one a few minutes behind and the passenger is happier to wait wouldn't it be good to know? Knowledge is power!

This is just some simple examples of how a smart city would help it's residents and visitors, increase efficiency, drive sustainability and foster inclusivity. The UK government in its smart cities background paper [PDF] identifies that “There is no absolute definition of a smart city, no end point but rather a process or series of steps by which cities become more “liveable” and resilient and, hence, able to respond to new challenges”. The smart city will evolve, coming into existence by a series of incremental steps but also adjusting and adapting over time. The needs of each city will be slightly different with different priorities and problems to solve.