Everything you need to know about Smart Cities
Traffic lights that “talk” to your car, streets that charge batteries while you drive and cars that circulate and park by themselves. The city of the future will be capable of generating and self-managing its energy, regulating the traffic and the lighting autonomously, supplying electricity to vehicles and even taking it from them to supply our homes as required.
It is estimated that more than 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. But our cities will not be the chaotic places with traffic jams, pollution and asphalt that we inhabit today. Instead, technology offers us the opportunity to create these new cities of the future in a cleaner, more efficient and habitable manner.
“Smart Cities could represent the greatest leap in citizens’ quality of life making it possible to address the three major challenges of cities: the fight against climate change, economic competitiveness and the fight against social inequality,” explains Manuel Gavaldón, Head of Business Development at Fundación Metropoli, an institution dedicated to the development of sustainable urban ecosystems.
The transmission speed and capacity of our networks will allow our buildings, cars and infrastructure to be connected to the Internet, sharing data and enabling more efficient and integrated operation of all the city’s systems. This, together with the implementation of renewable energies and the universalisation of electric vehicles, will change the landscape of our cities forever.
Gavaldón, however, prefers to use the term “Super Cities”. “The Smart City concept refers only to technology, but there must also be a philosophy. This is what we call Super Cities. The challenge is to use all these advances with a clear model of the city, planning that really improves citizens’ quality of life, capable of addressing the major challenges of globalisation, such as poverty and inequality,” he maintains.
Here we show you some of the technological advances that will allow us to advance towards that utopian city, provided that we do not forget to do our part: because a city will only be as smart as is citizens.
Smart buildings for a circular electric system
Efficient management of renewable energies is the basis of the city of the future. According to data from the European Environment Agency (EEA), 56% of pollutant particles in the atmosphere come from private buildings, institutional buildings and shopping centres.
The new smart city dwellings will be capable of administrating their own energy, with efficient climate control systems capable of reusing heat and cooling their structure according to need. They also envisage electricity micro-generation systems with solar panels to supplement the supply at peak demand times or transfer it to the grid to supply other buildings. In garages, electric cars will draw energy from the building to charge their batteries or function like portable generators to provide it when required.
Our houses, businesses and the entire city infrastructure – traffic lights, street lamps, electric public transport – will be constantly connected to the power grid to ensure a more efficient distribution of the electricity through the Smart Grid, which makes it possible to supply the exact amount of electricity to each element at any given time.
Traffic lights that “talk” and streets that recharge your car
The city’s infrastructure will also be connected to the Internet and will be capable of communicating with a central system and the cars driving along the streets. This will improve traffic flow. For example, traffic lights will be capable of communicating with the autonomous systems of our cars to regulate traffic, and smart parking meters will be capable of administrating parking space in order to optimise it. Additionally, conventional and quick charging points will be distributed throughout the city to supply our vehicles.
The road itself, through induction systems such as that proposed by Israeli startup ElectRoad, will be capable of charging our vehicles while they drive through the city and along access roads.
Electric and self-driving cars will change the city landscape
Electric and self-driving cars are one of the cornerstones of smart cities. Thanks to them, the air of our cities will be cleaner and cities will be less congested through the efficient management of parking areas. Carsharing systems, together with the public transport system, will reduce the number of vehicles that enter the city and will free up thousands of square metres of space on our streets currently dedicated to parking.
A recent study by British engineering companies Farrells and WSP on the city of London assessed the impact of a change in model towards a system where shared and self-driving cars prevailed over privately owned vehicles. Thanks to this, 70% of current parking space would be freed up for other uses. That equals 5,000 hectares, which could be used for green zones, bicycle lanes or pedestrian areas.
The enormous spaces dedicated to underground parking will also have new uses. “One of the uses currently being studied is to convert those parking spaces into warehouses for the storage of goods,” explains Elisabeth Martínez, co-founder and CEO of Conector, the Spanish startup accelerator which has just implemented half a dozen digital mobility projects in collaboration with SEAT. “We are increasingly buying more over the Internet and online supermarkets and stores need to have logistics centres located near their customers. In this way, car parks will become warehouses for products that will subsequently be delivered by small electric delivery vans or bicycles.”