Data & the IoT key to enabling smart cities of the future

Data & analytics
Data is the lifeblood of smart cities like Barcelona, transforming everything from shopping and transportation to autonomous driving and augmented reality

By 2050, two-thirds of people globally are expected to live in cities. As urbanisation continues to rise, cities are facing new challenges that require innovative solutions. 

Enter the Internet of Things (IoT), a network of interconnected devices that collect, analyse and share data. IoT is the backbone of smart cities, enabling the seamless integration of technology into urban infrastructure and services. 

And just what are smart cities? Think about your phone and its capabilities, but on a city-wide connectivity scale. In essence, they are crucial for addressing urban challenges, with the IoT playing a pivotal role in their success – from water and electricity, traffic flow, and parking to refuse removal and sewerage – creating more effective, efficient management. 

At the heart of the smart city is the smart sensor. Distributed in the tens of thousands across smart city test neighbourhoods, or even entire boroughs, IoT sensors monitor everything from traffic patterns and footfall to utility usage and emissions.

If local governments are curiously eyening smart city capabilities in their own backyard, they need to look at deploying sensors while making use of those that already exist, harnessing the vital data required to catapult their cities into the future.

Data key to enabling smart cities

In smart city environments with IoT, everything from vehicles to hand-held devices is constantly interacting with one other, generating not only a large volume of data, but also different variants of datasets. 

As Tikiri Wanduragala, Senior Consultant for Infrastructure Solutions at Lenovo, explains, this data is the lifeblood of smart cities. “It flows directly between the cameras, sensors and metres that connect our community services, from transport systems to water networks. 

“Using data to enhance the lives of their citizens, smart cities represent the future of urban existence,” he explains. “Yet, for all the promise, cities across the globe are still failing to make the most of data and harness its potential within urban spaces. This will be fundamental to planning and designing smart cities around the world, with urban planners relying on data from both public bodies and private organisations to design and build truly forward-looking smart cities.”

Key to the concept of the smart city is the ability to manage assets and resources. As Eckart Zollner, Head of Group Business Development at Jasco Intelligent Technologies, told Technology Magazine recently, this requires data from many thousands of data capture points – so-called ‘connected devices’ – to instantaneously transmit information to a central server. The IoT forms the platform and network for this data collection and transfer, as well as the resultant analysis and intervention. These devices include water and electricity meters, environmental sensors, flow meters, level sensors, parking sensors, a variety of tracking devices, RFID readers and more.

However, managing these datasets to ensure such data doesn’t go stale is a foreseeable challenge of the future. As a result, many technologists now look to the best of cloud and edge computing as a critical solution in managing data.

Data helping make Barcelona a flagship smart city

As Wanduragala describes, Barcelona’s smart city pilot demonstrates how the smart application of data can transform everything from shopping to transportation, enabling services from autonomous driving to augmented reality. 

“Its famous La Boqueria market, for example, was the site of an innovative 5G trial providing shoppers with a virtual shopping experience. This used augmented reality to create a unique link between real-world market shopping and ecommerce,” he says.

The pilot smart city programme is also using data to power experiments analysing how to monitor and control traffic, with an autonomous bus driving tourists to the Fira de Barcelona Gran Via venue while roadside cameras monitor traffic for accidents. “Data is also being used to investigate ideas such as ‘smart factories’ and ‘holographic’ teaching, where teachers appear remotely,” Wanduragala adds. “The smart city uses 5G to transform lives without the high costs of wired installations – and the city pulses with data. 

“Data is delivered rapidly where it is needed with the help of edge computing enabled by server cabinets dotted around the city,” comments Wanduragala. “Edge computing is a distributed paradigm that brings computing power closer to the sources of data. It means that data doesn’t need to be sent to a far-away data centre for processing, enabling the sort of rapid decisions and responsive services that power a smart city.”

Securing connected devices to ensure the security of smart cities

The rapid proliferation of connected devices in smart cities has brought unprecedented opportunities for improved urban living. However, as the IoT becomes increasingly intertwined with critical urban infrastructure, securing these devices is critical.

Over the next five years, the smart city threat landscape is expected to grow in complexity and sophistication, with an ever-increasing number of connected devices and integrated systems. As Ilan Barda, CEO of Radiflow, explains, this growth will inevitably create more opportunities for cybercriminals to find new back doors into systems and more data for them to target. 

“The growth in smart city applications, suppliers, and integrations also increases the potential for supply chain attacks and third-party vulnerabilities. Critical infrastructure systems, such as ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems), DER (Distributed Energy Resources), and electric car charging will be widely deployed and will certainly become an attractive target for cyber attackers, and we will likely see attempts to breach these systems increase – especially by state-sponsored attackers.

“The use of both AI and ML in smart city systems will also increase, helping improve the efficiency of systems and expand their advantages. However, this will also create new avenues for attack through the cloud, as well as make the detection of malfunction behaviours more difficult.

“To address these continuously evolving threats, stakeholders must take a proactive and collaborative approach to cybersecurity, including regular security assessments, vulnerability management, incident response planning, staff training, and awareness programmes. Strong authentication, encryption, network segmentation, disaster recovery pnanning, and business continuity planning are also essential components of any effective smart city cybersecurity strategy.”

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