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Smart Citizens: How People Will Help Smart Cities Thrive | @ThingsExpo #IoT

Citizen-centricity has always been at the heart of smart city design

Three major factors are converging to make smart cities a reality: the exponential advances in information and communications technologies (ICT), rapidly expanding applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the fast-paced advancements in machines that are already going beyond their basic functionalities. Technology can contribute in many ways to the development of smart infrastructure. However, it's the interactions between people and the machines that are integral to the social, cultural and economic life of these smart cities.

Citizen-centricity has always been at the heart of smart city design and, today, machines are being upgraded with deeper intelligence and advancing further to acquire the innate sensing abilities previously unique to humans. As a result, sensors would become the eyes and ears for connected living in the smart cities ecosystem. This adds a whole new dimension to social interactions and creates a paradigm shift in the civic behavior of its citizens to complement the technological and infrastructural efforts.

These "smart citizens," equipped with hand-held devices and wearables, will make smart cities thrive.

Their decision-making relies on actionable insights gathered by the intelligent technology that surrounds them, rather than pure intuition. With advances in remote sensing, geo-spatial location capabilities and gesture technologies, citizens are taking more direct control without the need for any physical contact with the devices.

The onus on smart citizens
Smart cities, powered by IoT, abound with sensors and automated mechanisms for effective resource management and self-correcting processes. However, it's the onus of smart citizens to use their smartphones to capture and broadcast important information and real-time reports. They might share information about a sudden accident, uncollected wastes, pot holes on the roads, street light maintenance or unpredicted utility failures directly with city management for quicker response and mitigation. Pollution, traffic, natural disasters, crime, waste management, and other public resource usage patterns are other examples where smart citizens can play a role in collecting and reporting real-time information important to city officials.

The role of autonomous vehicles
Roads everywhere are being paved with sensors to gauge the traffic conditions. Autonomous vehicles, designed to avoid accidents with people, vehicles and their surroundings better than the human drivers, are perfecting their skills in outdoor labs like the City test facility at the University of Michigan. Self-driving cars are projected to provide mobility-on-demand, anytime, anywhere, helping to reduce ownership hassles. These cars can be used on a time-sharing basis or as a pay-per-usage shared service, which leads to lower vehicular emissions and a reduced carbon footprint. Any delays in transportation can be calculated in real-time by self-driving cars, eliminating the need for traffic signals, while still allowing traffic to move faster and more smoothly.

Smart citizens occupying these cars will act as social sensors by capturing and broadcasting useful traffic-related information like location, speed, and direction of travel. Connected cars can use these insights to identify an impending collision, re-route the journey to avoid traffic or issue a warning. However, it wouldn't be that interesting if just a few out of every 100 cars could communicate with each other. Therefore, a widespread smart adoption of connected cars and other such IoT systems will be crucial for the success of the smart city plan.

Autonomous cars will bring undoubted benefits to the personal convenience and safety of their riders. It will free them from driving and give them the flexibility to work, relax or find better things to do. During business trips, the backseats of self-driving cars can become a workstation for individuals or even serve as a conference area for teams wrapping up important meetings while commuting. The Internet-connected car itself can become a hotspot, enabling the riders to be a part of the continuously connected community. In fact, in a city full of self-driving cars also serving as Wi-Fi hotspots, residents eliminate personal Internet connections. The emergence of such smart mobility solutions will result in increased productivity, effective traffic management, reduced ecological impact and increased leisure opportunities. Initially, the car was just a means and not an end to the problem, and with the emergence of self-driving cars, the commuting challenges would be addressed more effectively in a smart city.

The crowdsourcing opportunity
Crowdsourcing has staggering implications for smart cities. The real-time benefits of IoT can be realized only when citizens proactively participate in urban management. They do this by effectively utilizing the power of smartphones and other gadgets to digitally share information and contribute ideas for urban planning and implementation. Urban activism through social media is a key part of smart city management. If citizens opt into various civic initiatives, they could help in co-creating a connected-living environment in the smart city. For example, a utility management system by multiple users can track the usage patterns and identify areas with potential problems before they occur and respond quickly to ensure safety. Through crowdsourcing, smart cities can instill a feeling of ownership among its citizenry, creating a sense of pride and strengthening collaboration to make their cities a better place to live in.

Each successive iteration of urban development in these highly networked cities will lead to a more sophisticated urban landscape. When human eyes are effectively paired with millions of electronic eyes, smart cities will evolve into ‘self-aware' cities - equipped with a consciousness of their own. They will better understand patterns of citizen behavior, armed with the ability to control the digital footprints of its citizens, giving each smart city a unique urban identity and marking a major step towards artificial intelligence.

More Stories By GH Rao

GH Rao, President, Engineering and R&D Services, HCL Technologies, heads the engineering and R&D Services (ERS) business across sales and delivery functions at HCL Technologies. ERS provides services to leading product engineering companies globally across multiple industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical devices, consumer Hi-tech and Telecom.

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