Can Technology Make Cities Smarter?

By Terri Lewis, Planet Connected LLC

In your purse or pocket, there is a gadget that can tell if you’re a candidate for a heart attack; take or send pictures; or give driving directions that will avoid heavy traffic so you arrive at your appointment on time. Technology is embedded in our daily lives, keeping us safe, productive and healthy. We can and should expect that technology can do the same for our cities. Technology adoption in government has a name called “Smart Cities”. We are all now, to some degree, technologists and as such, it’s time to engage with your city to ask how they are adopting technology to maintain and improve your quality of life.

Almost 30 years ago, the internet started to be used by the general public, cell phones shrank in size from the size of a brick to flip phones that could fit in the palm of your hand, computers shrank in size from 20 lb carry-on size bags to the size of a book, and sensors started to have ability to process input signals into data inside the sensor. Adoption of this collection of technologies first started to spread into manufacturing and industry as they were seen as enablers to improve productivity, reduce costs, improve safety and compliance reporting. However, the adoption was slower than many projections due to costs and capabilities. The key innovation and volume driver that reduced costs was the smart phone introduction by Apple in 2007. Cell phone sales in the US are now at ~200Million/year and over 1.2+Billion/year globally. The smart phone has become the “on road to the internet highway”.

Not many people are exposed to manufacturing, but it’s rare to know someone who doesn’t have a smart phone or a smart watch. Smart phones aren’t just phones, but navigation systems, cameras, calculators, books, games, etc. Smart watches match some of the same features as your phone, doing a lot more than just tell time and now increasingly providing health information. At the doctors’ office, notice robotics and equipment that works automatically. Virtual reality headsets aren’t just for video games, but now help in training of surgeons, pilots, and construction equipment operators. Cars have driver assisted features for braking, lane guidance and parking. Like factories, we’ve become more productive, smarter and connected.

So what’s next? Smart Cities! Government is the current focus of technology, with many looking to achieve the same benefits as manufacturing; reduce costs of operation, improve outcomes, streamline processes, and improve sustainability and resiliency. Some state agencies are leveraging computer technologies to improve the speed of processing and reduce the paperwork involved for permits. Remote sensors placed in water systems are helping to manage and avoid storm water overflows. Electrical utility companies are using satellite images to review tree growth in and around power lines, spotting problems before they can occur. Traffic sensors capture volumes of cars and automatically adjust the red-light signal timing to improve the flow of traffic, reducing idle times at lights and congestion.

Technology allows us to think differently about our challenges. When multiple groups engage and align, including residents, government, business, education and healthcare, there isn’t a problem that can’t be resolved. We are all now, to some degree, technologists. We all certainly know where there are challenges in our community. Let’s make Southwest Florida a leader in Smart Cities using technology to improve our quality of life.

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