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Smart cities

4 min reading time

When it comes to state-of-the-art technologies, most people think of Silicon Valley. But far away from Apple & Co., smart city initiatives have already brought the future to unexpected places like Louisville, Santander and Songdo.

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Louisville: Huge success with applets

Louisville isn’t the most famous large metropolis in the United States, but that might change soon: It’s now the first smart city in the USA to implement the IFTTT platform, which stands for “If this then that”.

The smart city project uses a clever concept to simplify citizens’ everyday lives, by making it possible for smart homes to connect with smart city data through so-called “applets”. Users, for example, can have the lights in their homes change colour when there is an emergency in the area (i.e. “if” emergency, “then” lights change). They can also set up their air filters to activate when the digital health initiative detects a change in air quality. The system also simplifies the organisation of large events.

If a major event is being held in Louisville, all residents will receive a digital invitation automatically, with no administrative effort required.

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Santander: No more hunting for parking

Located in the north of Spain, Santander is perhaps one of the world’s first real smart cities. Since 2009, the city has had 20,000 sensors distributed throughout its urban landscape. The city has been able to overcome many of the challenges it faces in the 21st century. Easily.

One example: public parks. Special sensors measure soil moisture and turn on sprinklers when it gets too dry. Meanwhile, path lamps only light up when there is a person nearby – this is expected to deliver around 80% in energy savings. Even the trash cans automatically inform the sanitation department when they need to be emptied.
 

The most revolutionary development of all is the smart mobility solution that monitors parking spaces in the compact city centre. Sensors that detect magnetic fields can tell whether a space is free or not – and automatically re-route traffic accordingly. It’s no wonder that Santander has become one of the international poster cities of the smart city movement.

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Songdo: Where the living room becomes a command centre

Songdo is a district of Incheon, a city with over 3 million residents. In contrast to Louisville or Santander, smart technologies were integrated right from the beginning when this district was still in the planning phase.

When new residents move in, all they have to do is connect to the internet. Sensors and cameras within residents’ homes enable them to communicate with neighbours or businesses. They can ask to borrow some sugar without even leaving their house, or plan a holiday from their couch via video conferencing with a travel agency.

They can even get advice from their hairstylist without going to the salon. And people in Songdo never miss their appointments: a centralised digital assistant reminds them well in advance. But will these technologies have a negative impact on social interaction? Perhaps many of the new cafés and parks will remain empty of people if it’s so incredibly comfortable at home.

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Copenhagen: The happiest city in the world

It’s not surprising that a city like Copenhagen is also a smart city. It’s not that uncommon to hear that the people of Denmark are among the happiest people in the world. But the country’s capital goes a step further.

With Internet of Things (IoT) solutions like smart lighting, smart traffic management, waste management and intelligent building management, the city is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2025. It will also introduce the free exchange of data through its so-called City Data Exchange. The goal is to allow everyone – whether it’s a private citizen, company or public entity – to explore, consume or publish data, such as inhabitant statistics or air quality data.

All the information is freely available to anyone who wants it. This vision could lead to explosive development for the city. For example, anyone could discover the optimal location for a particular new business based on local demographics purchasing power and competition.
 

A smart city app will help residents optimise their means of personal transportation. It analyses their fuel consumption, calories burned and required travel time to calculate the best possible route. All this makes for easy living. In Copenhagen, they understand that progress means more than greater efficiency – it means sustainable happiness.

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And what about BMW’s home country Germany?

Data protection is a very sensitive issue in Germany, which puts limits on the collection of data. But the country still has many smart city projects that create smarter urban centres.

For instance, Reutlingen has installed sensors that measure the traffic and environmental situation, and has also installed so-called beacons throughout the city centre. These near-field sensors can be used by citizens who download the free "smaRT-City-App" to get information and special offers from businesses located in their direct vicinity. Of course, no personal data is tracked or revealed. The smart city project “Future Living Berlin” was introduced at the consumer electronics fair IFA. This environmentally friendly building complex will consist of 69 networked apartments. Future residents will reflect the demographics of society at large by including young couples all the way to pensioners.

Each unit will be equipped with the latest smart home technologies. Solar units will provide a self-sufficient supply of energy and heating. Sensors will monitor external light conditions and the time of day, to help ensure optimal lighting. Meanwhile, other sensors will ensure that water taps and doors function automatically, which will be especially helpful to senior citizens.

Whether it’s Santander, Songdo or Berlin, all of the above cities prove that digitalization can improve our lives, our health and the environment. The next big projects are sure to be just as exciting, and maybe you already live in the next smart city.

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