5 innovations to make cities smarter

IBM has unveiled a list of innovations that have the potential to change how people live, work and play in cities around the globe over the next five to ten years.

IBM has unveiled a list of innovations that have the potential to change how people live, work and play in cities around the globe in the next decade.

An estimated 60 million people are moving to cities and urban areas each year – more than 1 million every week. IBM’s fourth annual “Next Five in Five” report focuses on cities because the world is experiencing unprecedented urbanization, IBM officials said.

Last year, the planet reached an important milestone: For the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population resided in cities, according to IBM.

Cities must address increasing populations and deteriorating infrastructure. IBM is working with cities worldwide to make them smarter so they can sustain growth, officials said. In the next five years, by infusing intelligence into them, cities will change in the following ways.

Cities will have healthier immune systems

Scientists will give city officials, hospitals, schools and workplaces the tools to better detect, prepare for and prevent infections, such as the H1N1 virus or seasonal influenza. A “health Internet” will emerge, through which anonymous medical information, contained in electronic health records, will be securely shared to curtail the spread of disease and keep people healthier, IBM officials said.

IBM is working with organizations worldwide, such as the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Global Health and Security Initiative and the Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance, to standardize methods for sharing health information and analyzing infectious disease outbreaks, said Bill Pulleyblank, a vice president at IBM.

City buildings will sense and respond like living organisms

Today, many of the systems that constitute a building – heat, water, sewage, electricity, etc. – are managed independently. In the future, the technology that manages facilities will operate like a living organism that can sense and respond quickly to incidents and save resources. Thousands of sensors in buildings will monitor everything from motion and temperature to humidity, occupancy levels and light.

Some buildings are already showing signs of intelligence by reducing energy use and improving operational efficiency. For example, the General Services Administration has deployed software from Tridium to connect infrastructure in three older buildings in Chicago, said Marc Petock, global marketing and communications vice president at Tridium, during a recent briefing called “Designing Government Buildings for the 21st Century.”

GSA officials wanted a centralized facility management system that authorized individuals could access. By deploying the software, GSA now has an intelligent, connected infrastructure and is saving 10 to 15 percent on energy consumption.

Cars and city buses will run on empty

Increasingly, cars and city buses will run on alternative fuels. Vehicles will begin to run on new battery technology that won’t need to be recharged for days or months at a time, depending on how often you drive. IBM scientists and partners are working to design new batteries that will make it possible for electric vehicles to travel 300 to 500 miles on a single charge, up from the 50 to 100 miles currently possible. Also, smart grids in cities could enable cars to be charged in public places and use renewable energy, such as wind power, for charging so they no longer rely on coal-powered plants.

Smarter systems will quench cities’ thirst for water and save energy

Cities will install smart sewer systems that prevent run-off pollution in rivers and lakes and purify water to make it drinkable. Advanced water purification technologies will help cities recycle and reuse water locally, reducing the energy used to transport water by as much as 20 percent, Pulleyblank said. Interactive meters and sensors will be integrated into water and energy systems so residents can get accurate information about their water consumption.

Cities will respond to crises before receiving an emergency phone call

Law enforcement agencies will turn to mathematics and analytics to evaluate the right information at the right time so public servants can take proactive measures to head off crime. Fire departments will begin using software that could help prevent fires from happening in the first place.

The Fire Department of the City of New York has selected IBM to build a state-of-the-art system for collecting and sharing data in real time to potentially prevent fires while protecting rescuers. FDNY's new Coordinated Building Inspection and Data Analysis System will use business intelligence technologies, including predictive modeling and advanced data analytics, to anticipate fire exposures and analyze possible impacts, Pulleyblank said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Sun, Dec 27, 2009 Pat San Francisco, CA

Nice overview. Central to how this vision is realized is how we can wirelessly acquire the various types of sensor data mentioned above. Surprisingly, the military's use of an ultra-low energy wireless sensor networking protocol -- DASH7 (www.dash7.org) -- is one of the more likely winners in this race.

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