HomeInternet of Things (IoT)The internet of things finds a home in smart cities

The internet of things finds a home in smart cities

Corporate leaders gather in Dallas to discuss next generation technology

Imagining the ‘city of the future’ is becoming easier to do thanks to recent examples of smart cities innovation. Common urban challenges like traffic, energy and waste reduction are all targets for technology-based solutions. The internet of things (IoT) is at the center of this evolution and at a recent Tech Titans event in Dallas, corporate leaders from PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ericsson, Texas Instruments, Samsung, AT&T, Verizon, Nokia and more gathered to talk about the latest developments, biggest obstacles and their predictions for the future.

Global corporate partners are leading the way in developing smart cities technologies

This was clear during the Tech Titans event which featured panels where competing corporations talked through the challenges they are facing in IoT and related areas of innovation. And although there were of course differing perspectives, everyone seemed to agree on one overarching tenant: “Connected technologies must do one thing: provide solutions for the human experience.” This seems to go to the heart of the smart cities ethos which, despite the complexity of the technology, is still about improving the lives of citizens. The question comes down to “How can technology help to create a more connected, more affordable, more sustainable way of life in American cities?” The answer lies in the internet of things.

Here are a few of the key issues that corporate leaders expressed throughout the day related to IoT which can then be applied to smart cities. Once again there are some common themes.

It’s time to set standards for integration and interoperability

When it comes to true innovation, traditionally the technology is developed first before there is adoption or even a business case. The internet of things is no exception. When it comes to IoT, there is no shortage of cool gadgets and gizmos but to date, these are staying in proprietary silos while the larger system sorts itself out. (Think of Nest in its early days and how even now it is struggling to find wide-market adoption.)  On every panel, there was a call for “a level of standardization so that our technologies can integrate with each other.” The industry standards setting bodies are making progress, but there are important questions still on the table. Could the internet of things usher in a new level of cooperation in corporate America? Could this be a model for how the private sector encourages the public sector? Can this finally be a way to efficiently and effectively engage the private sector in public sector concerns such as public safety and citizen services while breaking down the all-too-present silos?

Nothing works without the right infrastructure

While it’s perhaps easier to focus on things like adjusting a thermostat from our mobile phones, we cannot forget about the infrastructure that powers this innovation. The number of connected devices is increasing at a staggering rate. Gartner predicts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015.  When you factor in the sensors, devices and other elements that contribute to making smart cities, the number of connected devices multiplies exponentially. All of this activity data sharing adds enormous strain on the infrastructure that makes it all run. There is a system of wireless, wireline, broadband and small cell technology that manages this and is being built out to handle the volume that is to come.

Prioritizing the buildout of these networks must be held as a top priority. There again the role of the public and private sector is a question. When government demonstrates appropriate levels of leadership, it sets the stage and identifies the objectives through smart policy. The private sector can then apply its strengths and invest the type of capital it takes to move forward while inviting entrepreneurs to quickly innovate and advance smaller (and just as important) pieces. Understanding and supporting this diverse ecosystem is needed in order for IoT and Smart Cities to flourish.

What we do with data makes the difference

Every device, whether it is a mobile phone or a traffic sensor is pulling tremendous amounts of data. How we gather it, store it, protect it, analyze it and share it will be one of the paramount priorities for Smart Cities. In his keynote address, Shahid Ahmed, Partner, IoT Thought Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers stressed this point and emphasized that connected technologies must protect, optimize and analyze data in a way that configures to the real world and predicts possible faults. The policies around educating and informing citizens also the systems that must be put in place to protect this data.

It’s common to hear a fair amount of backlash when it comes to smart cities and the issues of privacy and data security. It’s important to start forming forums to increase education about what data is collected, what happens with it, how it is protected, how it is used and how it is shared. But first municipalities, states and the federal government must modernize and streamline the framework for how this is handled and hopefully that framework is consistent across the country to increase interoperability and sharing. It’s easy to see how this conversation can quickly become looped as this is exactly in line with the first point mentioned above.

So what’s next?

In summary, the field is new and there is a lot of catching up to do. The internet of things and smart cities are offering a new kind of opportunity to examine and begin to solve the big questions that have been facing our communities for decades. The role of government and collaboration with the private sector are critical to map out as we forge forward with smart city solutions. Standardization, infrastructure development and big data are just three of the key issues. There will be many more and now is the time to move courageously and optimistically into these conversations. Convening events like the Tech Titans Reverse Pitch and the Smart Cities Innovation Summit in Austin next week are moves in the right direction and exciting opportunities to consider all that there is to come.

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