IOT and Smart Cities

How Cities are Using Big Data to Fill the Gaps  

Smart cities are picking up steam around the world. As the UN continues to push for a more sustainable future, nations, cities, companies, and organizations are stepping up to help advance the sustainable development goals. The EU has even made the Circular Economy a part of their top priority for 2017.

For smart cities, these urban areas are jumping into their own ambitious goals have since been faced with a new set of challenges. Achieving a more sustainable platform is surprisingly difficult due to lack of encompassing governance, top-down approaches to implementation (leaving many gaps for consumer needs or small businesses), and a lack of available monitoring on energy use, consumer waste, or emissions. However, some cities are finding ways to mitigate these pitfalls through technology; specifically, the Internet of Things (IOT).

How IOT Provides a Solution

Experts have agreed that the biggest shortfall for smart cities is the varying governments that implement regulations on emissions, quality standards, and other related issues. The massive boom in technology, coupled with global trade, has left many governments struggling to keep up with the modern needs of our planet’s inhabitants. As the University of Southern California notes, technology and innovation are some of the biggest struggles facing public administrators. Luckily, as technology and IOT continues to advance throughout the world, it could be the answer to mitigating the majority of the pitfalls in bureaucracy.

For example, a recent National Geographic article exposed some of the darker sides of solar panel production. Solar panels made in China have the ability to bypass American laws on harmful chemical use during production, but can still be bought and sold in the US. This causes problems for cities that want to utilize those solar panels: this supposed “renewable energy source” provides green energy, but at what cost?

This is where IOT implementation can particularly shine in smart cities if implemented correctly. Not only does IOT help monitor the life of any product or service during use, but it can also monitor the production and the repurposing of the product. For cities that are interested in implementing their own circular economy, IOT can be the technological-link that helps them “close the loop” between disposal and reuse.

Another struggle that IOT can help solve is the common “top down approach” of bureaucracy that overlooks the needs of individuals and small businesses by only concentrating on the larger corporations at play. With the collection of data between companies, streets, municipalities, and the overall city, IOT can help sort through all the information and will be able to focus on the individual needs of each patron. Whether it’s an individual in an apartment, or a small business surrounded by skyscrapers and large banks, the IOT framework will be able to adjust and analyze energy, waste, and emissions on a need-by-need basis.

Cities That Are Using IOT

Luckily, a few cities are starting to notice the impact IOT can have on furthering their sustainable goals. Through partnerships and slow growing pains, cities are finding new footing under the embrace of encompassing technology.


Pittsburg is a shining example of a city that has allowed IOT devices, and flourished because of it. The recent introduction of the driverless car from Uber has allowed the previously dying city to become center-stage for tech companies that are willing to branch out and test their products.

Allowing IOT devices such as the driverless car will not only help improve the city’s traffic infrastructure and CO2 emissions, but will boost their economy as more tech companies see the welcoming nature of the city. They may become a testing ground for the latest IOT, making them an industrial leader yet again.

Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa, is tackling air pollution through IOT by partnering with IBM. Their goal is to reduce air pollution to increase the quality of life for their inhabitants. The city, which was built off the profit of local mines, has recently grown to be the biggest economic hub for South Africa, but still strugsolar-776563_640gles with the aftermath of intense mining. According to the plan proposed by IBM: “Researchers from IBM’s South Africa research lab will work closely with experts from government and CSIR to analyze historical and real-time data from environmental monitoring stations in the City of Johannesburg […] The objective is to uncover greater insight about the nature and causes of air pollution, as well as model the effectiveness of intervention strategies.”

Once the initial base is set, IBM hopes to offer insight into pollution forecasting and planning, to “enable a proactive approach to air quality management.” The benefit of this IOT network goes beyond the reach of Johannesburg, as it also provides insight into the recurrence of pollution and how it can best be managed and mitigated around the world.

London, Birmingham, and the UK

England, like Johannesburg, is taking initiative on their pollution problem. In 2015, a new campaign was born named “Make Air Pollution Visible” due to a fine imposed by the EU for not meeting an air quality target by 2010. The program is utilizing sensors around some of the largest cities, with the pilot program beginning in London, to monitor and track air pollutants throughout the year. AirSensa is the name of their new network of IOT connected monitors, and each device was sponsored by a local organization or building, helping shoulder the expensive endeavor to improve the lives of local citizens.

In Birmingham, arguably becoming the largest technological landscape for startups in the UK, the local city council created an encompassing plan for the upcoming five years. The Clean Air Zone initiative is threefold for the city, aimed at increasing bike usage and public transportation, and decreasing the use of NOx by replacing engines on public vehicles. Through IOT, the city hopes to monitor emissions and pollutants, while also inviting in even more technological startups.

As these cities continue to improve their IOT network, provide results, and prove effective tracking techniques, other cities will soon follow. Of the top IOT cities, many exist in top tech regions such as California and New York. As other urban areas begin see the benefit of IOT on a city-wide, bureaucratic level, their invitation to tech companies will not only boost the local economy, but will also help fill the gaps in smart technology.

As IOT continues to advance, cities will no doubt begin to see the importance and assistance that IOT connection can provide them. The question is, how long will it take them to shift the paradigm?

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Katie McBeth, the author of this article, is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID. She enjoys reading teen novels, seeing the world through her camera lens, and attending indie concerts in small bars. Her love for reading is only trumped by her love for cats, of which she has three. She also has a dog, and he helps keep her grounded.
You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.


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