Introducing IoT and Smart Cities

You've probably heard of the Internet of Things (IoT). The rise of the smart home and smart city are two exemplary applications. Devices can communicate with one another, with people living in homes and cities, and even with outside third parties (i.e. a refrigerator automatically contacting a grocery store when key items like milk or eggs run low to order more). Let's dive into the future.

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An image of downtown Chicago
Illustration: © IoT For All

Introducing the Internet of Things (IoT)

While you’re probably familiar with the notion of IoT, what is it, actually? Chances are good that you can think of many things that connect to make this network, but what is the underlying concept here? Actually, there is no broadly accepted definition of what the Internet of Things is.

Forbes has one of the more apt descriptions of IoT, though, which is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cellphones, coffeemakers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of. This also applies to components of machines, for example, a jet engine of an airplane or the drill of an oil rig.

From this, we can see that the Internet of Things isn’t so much a physical thing or even a formulaic process. Rather, it’s a concept and a somewhat nebulous one at that.

Introducing Smart Cities

The best definition of a smart city comes from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Standards Association. The IEEE says, “As world urbanization continues to grow and the total population expected to double by 2050, there exists an increased demand for intelligent, sustainable environments that reduce environmental impact and o er citizens a high-quality life. A smart city brings together technology, government and society to enable a smart economy, smart mobility, a smart environment, smart people, smart living and smart governance.” Obviously, that’s less than concrete. Here’s another definition of the concept of a smart city.

Because of this ambiguity and disparity, we need to turn to actual use cases to determine what defines a smart city. There are quite a few ways in which this sort of technology is being utilized today around the globe, including the following:

  • Sensors built into bridges to sense things like degradation and the effect of seismic forces at work.
  • Sensors built into roadways to sense things like subsidence and wear and tear, as well as traffic flow.
  • Sensors built into buildings to sense things like the force of wind, foundation subsidence, seismic activity, and more.
  • Sensors within the interior of buildings to sense the presence of people within rooms, and thereby control the use of lighting, heating and air, and other systems to limit energy expenditure when it is unnecessary.
  • Sensors at entryways to provide facial recognition for better security within apartment buildings, commercial buildings, government offices, and more.
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What’s Driving the Push Toward Smart Cities?

At first glance, the rush towards IoT adoption seems to be one of mere convenience, similar to the use of smart technology within a home. For instance, no one really needs a refrigerator that can reorder groceries when the on-hand supply gets low. It’s mere convenience.

No one really needs a toaster that’s connected to the Internet. It’s just a convenience. No one really needs a frying pan that connects an app on your smartphone. Again, it’s just convenience (and not so much of that in this case).

It’s like the remote for your television you are perfectly able to get up, walk to the TV and change the channel manually. It’s just more convenient to do it from the comfort of the sofa.

The same concept doesn’t apply to the integration of smart technology within city infrastructure. Here, it’s more about achieving important goals, such as improving the use life and management of infrastructure, enhancing resident safety, and cutting costs and energy usage to be greener. In order really to understand the rise of smart cities, we need to delve into some of the drivers behind the adoption of this technology.

Infrastructure Management and Maintenance

Many cities around the world are suffering from decaying infrastructure. Roads are degrading. Railroad tracks are decaying. Bridges and overpasses are aging and becoming unsafe. IoT technology can embed sensors in these areas to determine a broad range of things, including the extent of degradation, daily traffic flow increases,

Ajit Singh is an Asst. Professor in the Department of Computer Application at Patna Women's College, Patna, Bihar. He's a published author in IoT, computer science, and data science. He's a member of IEEE, International Association of Engineers, Eurasia Research, ORCID, Python Software Foundation, Data Science Foundation and Non-Fiction Authors Association.