The Internet of Things (IoT) has taken off and is slowly revolutionising the world we live in. Smartphones, smart cars, even smart fridges – all now boast connectivity designed to make our lives easier and more efficient. This is expanding to a citywide scale, with over one billion connected devices currently in use in smart cities around the world (a number expected to grow to ten billion by 2020). One of the key drivers of this revolution is the increasing use of identity management amongst these smart devices, allowing them to communicate directly with one another (as well as with people) for the first time. So, with this in mind, what areas of our cities are likely to benefit most from the IoT revolution?

Below are five core aspects of city living where the growth of identity-driven IoT and smart devices is likely to have the most significant impact on citizens’ lives in the near future:

1. Transport

The transport and travel sector will reap the benefits of the smart city initiative immensely. Gone will be the days of sitting in sluggish traffic, or tirelessly driving round and round the multi-story car park searching for a space. Connected smart traffic systems will be able to monitor and collect real-time traffic information, traffic volume/flow, speeds, and hazards. This data will then be sent directly to commuters (via their unique digital identities) to warn of delays on their usual routes and suggest better alternatives. This same data will also be used to pinpoint regular traffic trends and black spots, helping city planners to develop efficient plans for improved transport infrastructure in the future. This initiative has already started to roll out in the UK; for example, Manchester has introduced ‘talkative bus stops’ as part of its £10m Smart City plan.

Give a smart city an inch and it’ll take a mile. Smart parking measures can also be brought into play. Smart meters will monitor parking availability, notifying drivers of free space locations as soon as they enter the vicinity. Once parked, smart payment systems can time the duration of the stay, capping it as soon as the car is moving again. Charges incurred can then be automatically paid via a pre-registered account, removing the need to queue at payment machines or carry large amounts of change for parking meters.

2. Sanitation

Another benefit of utilising connected devices in the IoT is the improvement it can bring to overall city cleanliness and sanitation. Thinking with the outlook that no ‘thing’ is too big or too small to have its own digital identity, public bins fitted with smart sensors could be used to alert council refuse collectors when they are full and need emptying; an initiative that has already been introduced in Milton Keynes and Camden. A network of ‘smart bins’ would help to improve the efficiency of rubbish collection routes throughout the city, preventing build up and significantly improving hygiene as a result.

On a more personal level, strategically placed motion sensors linked to a smart meter could be used to alert homeowners to any pest/rodent infestations in their homes. If required, pest control specialists could be automatically contacted to deal with issues as soon as they arise, saving nasty shocks (and potentially costly repairs) further down the line, and preventing the infestation from spreading.

3. Energy Saving

Many of us have already installed a smart home hub that can automatically regulate temperature and/or be accessed remotely by homeowners. But why stop there? The same smart hub system can be deployed on a citywide scale, used to monitor much larger public spaces such as museums, office buildings, and shopping centres. Glasgow has introduced energy efficiency through the smart city initiative, by connecting the city’s energy grid to buildings with smart capabilities, in order to manage energy consumption. In addition to temperature monitoring, smart sensors can also be used to make significant energy savings in areas such as lighting or escalator use in public spaces by ensuring the systems are only activated when citizens are in the vicinity.

4. Emergency Response

We are already coming to see how identity-driven IoT and Smart Cities can help make our lives easier on a day-to-day basis, but could they be utilised to save lives? For instance, if a smart fire detector in a building picks up smoke, it can immediately send an alert to the nearest fire station, instigating a series of pre-planned emergency response measures. As the emergency services make their way to the incident, the collaboration with smart transport meters allows them to receive a real-time update on traffic, avoiding any congestion. Similarly, their unique vehicle identities can be tracked and traffic lights automatically changed as they approach to ease their journey to the incident site. Each stage of what could have been a complicated operation is made simple and efficient. This kind of initiative is already being introduced in the UK – for example, through ‘Uber for fire engines’, recently launched in London.

5. Overall Public Safety

Many of the above-mentioned technologies will help to make cities a safer place to live by protecting citizens from issues including acts of God, transport overcrowding, and poor sanitation. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what identity-powered IoT can do. The same smart monitors used to save energy in the home could also detect gas leaks, alerting key parties to the leak based on key variables such as time of day, location of the homeowner, and severity of the leak. If the leak is not severe and the homeowner is within a five-minute radius, emergency services would not need to be alerted as well. This level of automated situational analysis means emergency services would avoid unnecessary call outs and can remain available should another more serious situation develop elsewhere.

Similarly, other smart systems can be deployed in different ways to help improve overall public safety within a city. For instance, smart street lighting can be used to deter street crime by increasing lighting intensity and alerting authorities if significant/unusual movement is detected in the vicinity or suspicious noises are heard.

In making our cities smarter, not only do we make our lives easier and more efficient, but we also make them safer. As the IoT continues to adopt an increasingly identity-driven approach, a wealth of new opportunities is opening up that can do all of the above and so much more. For the citizens who live, work, and socialise in smart cities, there are exciting times ahead.

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