Logistics And Infrastructure In Smart Cities (Part 2 Of 2)
Smart cities need smart foundations. The increase in automated homes and buildings shows that there is a real demand for interactive spaces, but for smart cities to achieve the kind of seamless automation that many people imagine there is a lot of work to be done in the background. With the rise of edge computing, developers are adding local automation to make managing buildings easier, as well as adding functionality for consumers or employees using the space. There is, therefore, a huge potential for city automation if city planners and those running data infrastructures can properly harness technology that is already in widespread use, and get around long-standing bureaucracies that obstruct rapid development.
This article will complete a two-part series on building automation and smart cities. This second part will expand on part one to look at how we are gearing up for smart cities, and the challenges of connecting technology in our pockets, homes and offices to improve our overall experience of urban space.
“You can’t have smart cities without smart buildings”
Reduced to its constituent parts, a city is simply a collection of buildings and other facilities, like parks, roads, and utilities such as transformers and water towers. Many of these individual spaces and facilities are already equipped with a lot of sensors, as Robert Hemmerdinger the chief sales and marketing officer of Delta Controls (and owner of the subheading quote above) states:
“It’s not difficult to hit 10,000 sensors in a commercial building.” Connecting these building systems together would already get us a significant portion of the way to a smart city, but this may not be feasible with current connectivity standards and reliance on cloud-based analytics services.
If they live up to incredibly high expectations, the dawn of 5G and the rise of edge computing could not only enable a seamless experience for citizens (Hemmerdinger outlines “a constant flow of information from someone leaving their house, through transportation, to their workplace”) but could open many more possibilities beyond smart city staples (like a smart grid, which can provide much more localized energy production depending on user needs). Hyper-localized forecasting that gets around, for example, could be achieved by “connecting together temperature sensors that are already recording that data,” Hemmerdinger argues, “and a similar thing could be done with security cameras in the event of a large-scale incident.” the issue of urban microclimates skewing forecast data
Bringing these systems together to create a cohesive device network, however, is not as easy as it might seem (as with most things to do with the IoT) and there is a range of factors that stand in the way of full smart city integration. “The problem,” says Saar Yoskovitz the co-founder and CEO of, “sits with the fact that many industrial and commercial facilities have begun to implement a fractured ecosystem of IoT devices that aren’t necessarily communicating with one another.”
While facility managers recognize the benefits of IoT or automation technologies, there is often not enough IT expertise to properly implement systems and ensure interoperability.
Because of the widening gap between IT expertise and a growing expectation for seamless digital services, edge computing is seeing “huge demand from local and state government,” says Bruce Milne the CMO of, now that the technology has progressed enough to “federate that data [from edge devices] and manage all those devices centrally without IT expertise.”
Overcoming infrastructure issues
Data federation (managing data from all devices in one common, central location) allows edge devices to work far more effectively as part of a whole system, but there is more consolidation of connectivity and data infrastructure required to make things run even smoother. Dynamic resource allocation allows data capacity to be spread across all systems in a building or area, as Milne explains using the example of a stadium: “During the game, you need to make sure the POS (point of sale) system is running perfectly, at the expense of back-office systems, and [you must] absolutely never drop the ball when monitoring points of ingress and egress.” Shifting data capacity from one system to another at peak times allows for much smoother operations overall, and “also means you don’t have to buy the maximum data capacity for every application you have.” 5G also goes through a similar process on the connectivity side called network slicing, allocating different speeds and bandwidths for different applications-faster transfer speeds for emergency services, and slower for long-range industrial IoT applications-and the convergence of these capabilities could massively speed up the progress of smart cities in Western countries.
Long-standing bureaucracies and stakeholder stalemates continue to stand in the way of any kind of public development in the West, especially when it comes to standardizing and implementing new technologies.
Without such a fiercely competitive market and fewer hoops to jump through to satisfy stakeholders, it could be that places like Bogotá, México, Dubai and Singapore that have access to advanced technologies and leaner, more centralized governments could leapfrog traditional technology leaders like North America and Western Europe. “In the places that are more backward in terms of democratic governance, smart cities will develop a lot faster,” argues Milne, “in the U.S. it’s very atomic-it’s a smart metro system, but not a whole city-but there are multiple examples in Latin America and APAC with a different approach to deploying smart city projects.” Trying to please everyone in a project as large as a smart city is difficult enough without having to integrate various edge and IoT systems together, and when considering overlapping jurisdictions in a facility like an airport, it gets even more convoluted. Central decision-making and state-approved technology standards assuage the market-driven model that Milne upholds-”market competition ensures that the best technology will always win”-and get a smart city on its feet without having to compromise and negotiate with stakeholders. “I think these cities [in LatAm and APAC] will emerge as world leaders as they are able to attract more business and move ahead faster, and other places will be a lot slower because of the number of stakeholders to appease,” says Milne.
Smart cities, not so simple
The image of a smart city has been idolized as a pinnacle of human achievement since the 50s, when flying cars and moon stations seemed within our grasp. But as with most things in life, there are far more complex and nuanced factors to consider, and working around our existing technological and social systems to build and integrate smart cities will be much more difficult than anticipated. Luckily emerging technologies and techniques such as data federation, dynamic resource allocation and 5G network slicing will help to smooth the transition, but more social challenges like stakeholder appeasement and fierce competition for standardization may hinder the progress of Western smart cities while other, more centrally-governed places move further ahead.
The development of smart cities could lead to a shift in the balance of technological prowess that so far has favored the open-market approach of the West, towards manufacturing hubs, financial centers and labor-rich areas that have been built on common technology and less bureaucratic systems standing in the way. Once a stable base of connectivity, data, and legislative infrastructure has been established, Western smart cities can begin to grow and compete-while México, Singapore, Dubai and Colombia will have their systems operational and already attracting the world’s attention.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.