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The debate around smart cities often centres on their economic and environmental benefits.
The debate around smart cities often centres on their economic and environmental benefits. For example, the Global Commission on Economy and Climate recently found that fostering the growth of smart cities could save national governments as much as $22 trillion. The social benefits of smart cities, however, are often overlooked. In fact, smart can have a positive impact on all areas of a person’s life, from the moment they get up in the morning to their work day and commute back home.
Smart technology in the home improves energy and water efficiency, but can also make the morning routine easier and more comfortable. By using a smart thermostat and sensor lighting, a person can wake up in the most enjoyable and effortless way because temperature and light is personalised and responsive. Other technologies include energy demand response systems that automate when hot water comes on and predict loading problems, reducing the risk of waking up to a cold shower in the morning. These systems also allow people to set their washing machine and dishwasher to run at the cheapest time, usually in the early hours of the morning when people are asleep.
This in turn can make life more streamlined by reducing daytime household chores. Smart homes empower us through remote control and information, saving us money and enabling us to be greener.
Many people at work feel that they would like to use their time more efficiently, or that they would like quicker access to information in order to make informed decisions – that’s where smart technology comes in.
The ad-hoc GP visit before work could be sped up or even eliminated. Smart health-monitoring devices and comparative analysis of personal healthcare records could drastically reduce GP waiting times. Getting your morning coffee could be made less stressful with wireless sensors detecting when you walk into the store and alerting the barista of your likely order based on your order history. For a retail employer, big data could assist them in tailoring shopping experiences based on access to a customer’s online purchasing activity. In the average office, new roles will open up for data analysts; computers and phones will be remotely accessible by IT departments and simpler location tracking will save workers time hunting things down.
Making working lives more efficient will have knock-on benefits for the amount of time people need to spend at work, reducing stress levels and helping people in society to have more balanced lifestyles.
We all get stressed getting to and from work. Smart cities help alleviate that by making journeys seamless. This in turn saves time and energy. Using a journey planner app such as City Mapper already helps many commuters travel more efficiently and avoid congestion. This is just one example of how big data is already changing the way we travel; it’s making public transport a more appealing option and freeing up our time.
Smart technology will also allow a car to connect to the individual’s home – for example, turning on the heating as they near their destination, helping to avoid the risk of coming home to a cold house. Smart vehicle technology and 5G mobile technology could alert rubbish trucks when they are full, making waste collection more efficient. It will allow traffic lights to change depending on demand, saving time and increasing safety. By using smart parking, the commuter’s stress levels are reduced and so too are the numbers of bumps and scrapes whilst parking.
All these innovations in smart city technology help to improve the experience of travel, enabling people to have more efficient, more comfortable journeys.
Looking at a day in a smart city, we can see how technology can improve people’s lives. Not only does this benefit the economy and the environment, but it could also bring great social benefits – improving safety, comfort, stress levels and giving people more personal time. If such benefits are going to be realised, businesses, governments, academics and experts across disciplines need to collaborate. Now that we can visualise what smart cities will do, the next step is working out how they might be realised.