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Covid-19 is accelerating the transition to smart and safe cities with technology to build resilience

Cities are powerful engines of economic growth, , more than half of the world’s population lives in an urban area or city and it is estimated 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.  Urbanization’s advantages are however mirrored by significant sustainability challenges, with cities today accounting for over 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 60-80 per cent of global energy consumption.  Therefore, sustainable urbanization has become a key policy point to administrations across the world.


Smart city is one that uses technology extensively to achieve key outcomes for its various stakeholders, including residents, businesses, municipal organizations and visitors. This city is adaptive, responsive and always relevant to all those who live, work in and visit the city. A smart city integrates technology to accelerate, facilitate, and transform this ecosystem. A smart sustainable city is an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social, environmental as well as cultural aspects”.


In a “smart city” concept, a city will interconnect all public services using digital, information and communication technologies. The resulting enhancement in the quality and performance of urban services reduces cost and resource consumption within the city. However, ICT creates some environmental problems. Computers and other IT infrastructure consume significant amount of electricity, placing a heavy burden on our electric grids and contributing the greenhouse gas emissions. The current ICT equipment and telecommunication networks are not energy efficient. Therefore Countries and Industry are focussing on Green ICT  which refers to the design and application of information and communication technology to offer environmental benefits. Green ICT is concerned with ICT equipment that is sustainably produced, lasts longer, wastes less energy, is used in an efficient way and is disposed of responsibly.


At present, at least 20 countries are considering Smart City construction as part of national strategies, and formulating guidelines on investment priorities, technologies, and services. According to Worldwide Smart City 2016 Top 10 Predictions released by International Data Corporation (IDC), by 2018, 90% of the public fund in the Asia-Pacific Region will be invested to promote social and economic development, bridge the economic gap, and attract talent.


Cities are adjusting to the new reality following the impact of Covid-19.  This pandemic on one hand has brought digital health to the front and on other hand is accelerating the integration of smart city technologies. Every country is now looking to develop new technological solutions to control the ongoing crisis as as prventing a resurgence. The countries are adopting  e-government services, e-health and teleconsultation, remote work, online education, and e-commerce.


AI is being used to fight the virus on all fronts, from screening and diagnosis to containment and drug development. AI  Chatbots reduce the pressure on hospital and government personnel by automatically answering queries from members of the public, and even advising individuals about whether they need to undergo screening in hospital or stay at home for a 14-day quarantine. Real-time dashboards and data sharing: including use of smartphone data crowdsourcing for location tracking. New types of surveillance: AI-based remote temperature sensing (Kogniz Health)

Smart city Strategies and technologies

A smart city is a framework, predominantly composed of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), to develop, deploy, and promote sustainable development practices to address growing urbanization challenges. A big part of this ICT framework is essentially an intelligent network of connected objects and machines that transmit data using wireless technology and the cloud. Cloud-based IoT applications receive, analyze, and manage data in real-time to help municipalities, enterprises, and citizens make better decisions that improve quality of life. Citizens engage with smart city ecosystems in a variety of ways using smartphones and mobile devices, as well as connected cars and homes. Pairing devices and data with a city’s physical infrastructure and services can cut costs and improve sustainability. Communities can improve energy distribution, streamline trash collection, decrease traffic congestion, and even improve air quality with help from the IoT.


To prepare for this unprecedented urban population growth, businesses and local governments are making investments in 5G and IoT technology to create the smart cities of tomorrow, where humans and technology will interact in connected and intelligent ecosystems. Smart cities will be powered by 5G and current IoT technologies, such as Narrowband – IoT (NB-IoT), LTE Machine Type Communication (LTE-M) and Long Range (LoRa).


But the advent of 5G promises more than just more and faster data. It’s the technology that allows smart cities to develop, grow and thrive. For example, 5G will enable ultra-low latency, ultra-reliability, massive connectivity and devices with 10-plus years’ battery life – all catalysts for new and exciting use cases for smart cities. 5G promises major improvements to urban challenges like traffic congestion, pollution and mass transit. New technologies like autonomous vehicles will place huge demands on 5G networks, requiring continuous connectivity among vehicles, networks and even pedestrians, with minimal latency, so cars can react within milliseconds to avoid potential accidents. 5G will deliver lightning-fast data transfer speeds, while connecting sensors and smart assets among networks. This could help smart city decision makers react to crime, natural disasters or air quality issues in a fraction of the time.


Smart Environment and energy

For a smart city to live up to its name, using technology to foster sustainable growth is essential. Cities must push toward wiser use of resources, from implementing sensors that detect leakage to using behavioral economics and gamification to encourage citizens to make thoughtful decisions on resource use. In a truly smart city, a new class of smart citizens becomes prosumers, citizens who use homes and offices to generate electricity and consume the same. Buildings, increasingly covered with solar material and paper batteries, would transform the construction industry and create millions of new micro-sources of power.


Electric utilities are adding “internet of things” technologies such as sensors and automated controls, and linking them to advanced
communications and analytic software. The grid can “heal” itself through a combination of automated switching, dispatch of distributed energy resources, coordinated demand response and management without intervention by operators in the control room.


Smart meters provide data that helps utilities better monitor the health of the electric grid, restore service faster during outages, communicate information to customers such as high usage alerts, and integrate distributed energy resources. The data generated by smart meters can be used to create detailed insight into energy usage patterns. This data can be used by smart apps that use concepts like gamification to make consumers more aware of their energy usage and influence them to change their behavior to decrease their energy consumption. Responsive, or “smart,” devices and appliances (e.g. air conditioners, hot water heaters, refrigerators, and clothes washers and dryers) can temporarily reduce energy consumption during peak energy demand periods.


Real time water quality monitoring, with a network of sensors covering surface water, contribute to sustainability of city resources. Embedded sensors of various types are used for everything from pollution monitoring to land management, supplementing or replacing on-site inspections. Embedded sensors in “smart cities” enable continuous monitoring of weather conditions, air quality and home energy consumption. Through better design and life-cycle thinking, consumption and production become closed loops, producing no outputs as waste throughout their life cycle. Even food spoilage and waste could be reduced to zero and turned into biofuels, compost or animal feed.


Government and education

Teaching is moving online, on an untested and unprecedented scale. Student assessments are also moving online, with a lot of trial and error and uncertainty for everyone. In higher education many universities and colleges are replacing traditional exams with online assessment tools. Digital technology changes the way education is provided to students. Thousands of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s), provided by world class universities, are already functional and the number is steadily increasing.


The availability of online courses, combined with the augmented supply of learning resources, both online and offline, due to unbundling of education services, allows a further personalization of education. Students are able to combine education services from different education providers to form a learning path tailored to their personal preferences, interests and talents. App developers, data scientists, and user-experience designers represent just a few of the professions  that didn’t exist a short time ago. Given the pace of change, the emergence of entirely new categories of jobs will likely become more common. To keep pace with the ever-quicker cycle of creative destruction, lifelong learning becomes a permanent part of our professional lives.


On the other hand, heavy, expensive, and quickly outdated textbooks could be replaced by cheap, easy-to-update, interactive, digital “flexbooks”. Augmented reality (AR) applications can transform a static learning experience into something immersive and dynamic.



Living and health

A truly smart city uses technology and connectivity to enhance the daily lives of its residents. Cities should encourage connected communities through constructing smart buildings, innovating in the health care sector, and using data to monitor and enhance social programs.


The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis. This  include at-scale testing, sophisticated real-time surveillance, rigorous contact tracing, and rapid, targeted quarantine to isolate cases and contacts. Telemedicine has been useful to prevent many in flocking to hospitals and further enhance the  risk exposure to the  infection. The drones  have been employed extensively from  enforcing social distancing guidelines, finding  suspects to delivering essentials. Autonomous freight: autonomous last mile delivery (Beep, Navya, Nuro, Waymo, Postmates)Digital twins have been used for  holistic, transversal, real-time visibility for resources, assets, and services (Siradel).


Nov 2020 report fom UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Geospatial Practices for Sustainable Development,  showcased examples from the region’s countries employing applications of space technology to advance sustainable development. “Night-light” satellite images monitoring the impact of lockdowns, “heatmaps” to chart out communities vulnerable to the pandemic and its socio-economic consequences, real-time situational analysis, and dashboards integrating a wide gamut of critical information to support decisions are some of the practices cited. The examples, according to the report, show how space applications and geospatial data have played an important role in providing essential location-based and temporal data to make an “overall data map” and snapshots on the COVID-19 pandemic for policymakers and the public.


In addition, combining spatial data from contact tracing, quarantining, and social distancing with digital solutions and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven risk analytics can help enhance community resilience. Such applications can also help in the recovery phase to build back better, by providing an evidence base for decisions on the easing of lockdown and the resumption of economic and social activities, the report added. “The effective integration of geospatial data, with existing statistics and ground-based information, will be key to delivering the timely data needed for governments, businesses, communities and citizens to make evidenced-based decisions”, said Armida Salsiah Alisjahjabana, Executive Secretary of ESCAP.


Today the healthcare ecosystem is faced with numerous challenges ranging from infrastructure, connectivity, optimal resource, need for experts, precision, data management and real-time monitoring. The healthcare segment is a fast expanding market with an increase in the number of applications that will use the network – distinct types of data in varying size and formats which in turn will place complex demands on the network in terms of bandwidth, data rate and latency among other factors.


Key technology drivers in health care are IoMT devices: and Management of massive amount of data created by IoMT devices (wearables, implantable medical devices, and smart sensing remote/inhouse monitoring devices);  Smart wearables that monitor  health parameters like heart rate, basic blood pressure, breathing rate. Tactile Internet for remote healthcare involving 2-way interaction and robotics places a special premium on millisecond level latency and immediate response times. Critical communications: remote health monitoring of blood sugar, ECG, temperature interworking with QoS mechanisms to reserve capacity for critical communication. Emergency medical services such as ambulance services communicating back to nodal hospital with relevant patient information like high resolution images/videos
in timely manner.


Privacy and Security: Privacy and data integrity of patient data is of paramount importance and necessitates special mechanisms to be adopted. Data handling will be expected to ensure required levels of privacy, preferential network resource handling and guaranteed Quality of Service (QoS). Analytics: With the spurt of UEs and ubiquitous wireless connections in health care, the amount of data processing that must be accomplished exponentially increases. Various parameters such as user location, services used, signalling be processed and handled. This gives rise to new models and use cases that range from data extraction, data formatting, storage and presentation.




Mobility has become as much about bits and bytes as it is about physical infrastructure. In smart cities, integrated mobility systems—that include shared mobility services and autonomous vehicles—the Internet of Things, and advanced analytics enable people and goods to move faster, safer, cheaper, and cleaner.


On-demand car services tap into the potential of unused vehicles and uses digital platforms and smart apps to allow individuals to sell rides to people requiring transportation. Typical examples are Uber and Lyft, which have grown exponentially through their mastery of digital
dispatching platforms. Carpooling allows people to share their personal cars for commuting at their own convenience. More and more apps are helping broker this sharing. Carpooling lowers commuting costs for individuals, and improves congestion while continuing to provide the convenience of point-topoint transportation.


Modern cars are already equipped with many computerized systems to increase convenience and safety. Some of these systems even
automate manual actions like parking the car. As truly autonomous vehicles finally start traveling on US roadways, connected car technology strives to help in maintaining smooth traffic, reducing safety distances between cars which ultimately increases the capacity of the road.


Advances in sensors and the internet of things are now offering a major leap in monitoring technology. Real-time information optimizes traffic flows. Traffic data collected through sensors coupled with commuter GPS and Bluetooth allow for instantaneous reporting of traffic conditions.  Connected traffic lights receive data from sensors and cars adjusting light cadence and timing to respond to real-time traffic, thereby reducing road congestion.  Connected cars can communicate with parking meters and electric vehicle (EV) charging docks and direct drivers to the nearest available spot. Fine-grained traffic flow data created by sensors in infrastructure and vehicles allow intelligent systems to optimize traffic flow by adjusting traffic lights and other signals. These traffic control systems can also be used to guide emergency services like ambulances smoothly through traffic by finding the fastest route, keeping bridges closed and adjusting traffic lights.


Fifth generation (5G) technology is expected to be a game changer for the automotive industry. The possibility for vehicles to be connected to other vehicles, pedestrians, roadside infrastructure, or application servers enables the development of multiple revolutionary services. They will include:

  • Vehicle platooning: vehicles dynamically forming a group, driving together, and proceeding at a very short distance from each other;
  •  Advanced driving: sharing driving intentions, sensor data, and videos gathered through onboard cameras with roadside infrastructure, other vehicles, pedestrians and network servers, for safety and traffic efficiency applications, as well as semi- or fully-automated driving;
  • Remote/cloud computing driving: a remote driver or a V2X application that operates a remote vehicle traveling in dangerous environments, with impaired passengers onboard, or public transportation vehicles.



Public Safety and security

As crime becomes smarter and more high-tech, public safety and security agencies need to follow suit. In smart cities, data will play an increasingly important role in crime prevention as agencies try to preempt crime by tapping into all streams of data including social and crowdsourced information. As crime becomes smarter and high-tech, public safety and security agencies match-up. Law enforcement officers on the ground often use drones, wearable computing, facial-recognition, and predictive video to fight crime and protect public safety. Data plays an increasingly important role in crime prevention as agencies try to preempt crime by tapping into all streams of data including social and crowdsourced data.


In a smart city, a 911 call would immediately dispatch a properly outfitted UAV to the exact GPS location of the caller. Unimpeded by stop signs, road traffic and inefficient street travel, the UAV is able to fly directly to the scene. Its real-time video link to a squad car, fire truck and/or ambulance, as well as to the 911 dispatcher, would provide first responders with an accurate scene assessment. Equipped with RFID antennas or sensors, they can help us track objects or people, or alert us to changing environmental conditions. They can be summoned to carry objects from one location to another. Equipped with Wi-Fi, they can provide broadband connectivity on demand to places where it would otherwise be unavailable.


Smart street lighting incorporates movement sensors to increase both the safety of citizens as well as energy efficiency. Street lights become
brighter when movement is detected, making it clear when traffic is approaching or where pedestrians are located. Smart cities look beyond traditional incarceration methods to manage low-risk offenders. Electronic monitoring, often in the form of ankle or wrist bracelets, track a person’s location via GPS or radio frequency identification. These devices utilize continuous signaling, ensuring that authorities are
aware in real-time of any location changes.


Minimizing risk for police officers or fire rescue workers in uncertain or dangerous situations is critical in a smart city environment. Drone or
unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology can pull together images to assess situations or possible dangers before sending in human beings. Drones can also help find fires, identify and prevent police ambushes, quickly search accident and crime scenes, and even detect heat from threats that may be concealed. Hence, drones can act as first responders before human intervention can take place.


By installing a city-wide network of acoustic sensors on building rooftops, law enforcement agencies are able to accurately detect gunfire as soon as it’s fired. These sensors work in tandem, pinpointing the exact location of the gun shot and removing dependency on bystander reporting. Medical and law enforcement personnel can be deployed immediately, helping to resolve the situation and provide rapid medical care.


To satisfy the strict requirements imposed by emergency communications and Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) services in general, the network operators are expected to ensure ultra-low latency, ultra-high availability and reliability for these services. Due to the low latency that will be provided by the underlying access network, next generation emergency services based on massive IoT and device-to-device communications will be characterized by higher throughput, higher Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE) and low buffer requirements for the user devices.


Big data analysis helps determine the most likely causes of new or emerging crime trends in different areas of the city. For instance, data analytics combined with real-time facial recognition, CCTV video linkages, and license plate scanning; analyze where a crime is most likely to take place on a specific date and time. Law enforcement agencies can use these insights to monitor specific neighborhoods showing increased crime, identify causes that have been determined to affect crime rates, identify individuals that have a higher risk of recidivism and increase officer patrols in areas with a higher likelihood of crime.


As cities acquire and store large amounts of data, a significant portion of which will be sensitive in nature, protecting the data from cyber-attacks become paramount. Smart cybersecurity uses secure data platforms, clear data governance, and smart access protocols such as electronic finger printing to protect data.



With digitization and disruptive technologies changing the requirements of many jobs today, smart cities will have to develop strategies to address jobs of the future that will power Industry 4.0. Advances in technologies will also help streamline government procedures, providing a seamless experience to businesses.


The smart economy of the future is both seamless and dynamic. The growing ubiquity of digital and exponential growth in other technologies sees government regulatory machinery becoming nimble and responsive. While advances in technology help smart cities can streamline government procedures like permitting and licensing providing a seamless experience to businesses.


Innovation labs devise products and solutions to societal and public problems while providing a “safe” space for innovation, collaboration, learning, and incremental experiments to take place. These “citylabs” rely on open data to create service and applications relevant for citizens – bringing the ecosystem element to the siloed government.


Industry 4.0

Technology will likely continue to play a bigger role in the workplace. Some commentators worry that this presents us with a binary choice: human or robots. But the reality is more nuanced. While technology can indeed wholly automate certain routine manual tasks, other occupations could benefit most from the partial integration of technology. The resulting human-machine combination augments total intelligence and can significantly raise both productivity and quality. The smart cities of the future will be the hotbed for such
integration and experimentation with applications in almost all aspects of the city life.


A new industrial revolution is about to take off. In fact, the recent advances achieved by the current mobile and cellular systems posed the basis for new factory services and applications that require new modifications and solutions to meet challenging latency and reliability requirements. Related to this, the scale of information that will be exchanged across machines, robots, engineering and production intelligence, and the workforce (blue and white collar workers) will grow several orders of magnitude.


Covid-19 is also impacting manufacturing and highlighting the; importance of accelerating digital transformation strategies. The demands of social distancing are impacting people’s ability to work in close proximity, leading to many manufacturing companies having to pivot their strategies in order to stay afloat.





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