How digital identity will power smart cities

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How digital identity will power smart cities

There’s no doubt the rise of the Internet of things (IoT) is fundamentally changing the way we interact with the world around us. From smartphones and tablets to fridges and light bulbs, nearly every kind of device now boasts some form of connectivity designed to make our lives easier and more efficient. However, while the IoT revolution has accelerated rapidly in recent years, it is limited by one significant flaw: IoT devices generally cannot communicate with one another.

Without unique digital identities, devices can not communicate. And with 4.9 billion devices currently part of the IoT (rising to 25 billion by 2025), there are plenty of devices suffering from an identity crisis at the moment.  

However, the rise of digital identity management technology means that many of these devices can now be assigned their own identities across the IoT ecosystem. They can securely recognize and interact with other digital identities, establishing relationships between users, between users and connected things, and between things themselves.  As a result of this newfound communication, the utility of Internet-connected devices in homes, offices and even cities is greatly enhanced.

Envision, for example, a city where public services are connected through identity, including disaster early warning systems. When a hurricane is approaching, the early warning system kicks in, sending an encrypted message to the city’s emergency response crews, alerting them to the danger. The identity of the warning system is quickly authenticated, and preapproved emergency plans are put into action. Within a few minutes of the initial warning, bridges and at-risk public transport systems can be automatically closed, and fire crews dispatched to evacuate endangered buildings quickly and efficiently. The fire crews themselves also have unique identities, so their movement can be traced through the city, and fire engines can be dispatched to underserved areas via traffic-efficient routes. Traffic lights automatically change as the fire engines approach to ensure road congestion is minimized, while firefighters’ individual digital identities verify they are legitimate responders when they reach the scene.

The introduction of digital identity at each stage of an emergency response can rapidly transform a highly complex operation with many moving parts into a fast, automated response, potentially saving many lives. Without identities tied to each of the devices and systems involved, this simply wouldn’t be possible.  

Powering the smart city of tomorrow

Protecting us from the unpredictable aside, digital identity can also be used to make the more mundane aspects of life quicker and easier. Travel and logistics are two areas most likely to benefit from an identity-led approach. For instance, smart traffic systems can collect real-time data about traffic volume, speed and hazards. These systems can then use responsive signage to guide commuters towards less congested routes or even text specific commuters (via their digital identities) to warn of delays on their usual routes and suggest alternatives. The data collected through this kind of activity can also help city planners with future road and transit development by pinpointing exactly where the pinch points are in the current systems.

Elsewhere, smart parking systems can alert drivers to free spaces as soon as their car enters the vicinity, eliminating the need to drive around looking. Once parked, the smart system can monitor the duration of the stay using the car’s global positioning system, capping the parking charge once the car begins moving again and automatically charging the customer via a pre-registered account. Meanwhile, the city can monitor overall parking activity and respond with demand-based pricing, reducing pollution and traffic while optimizing revenues.

These are just a few examples of how identity will play a pivotal role in smart cities. From utilities to services and everything in between, the ability of smart devices to connect and communicate with one another will greatly improve the quality of civic services and city planning.

About the Author

Lasse Andresen is the CTO at Forgerock.

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