Imagine a future city where the water company can pinpoint a water main burst … before it happens. Where residents can turn to their mobile phones or laptops to find out which routes to avoid on the way home from work later in the day because of predicted traffic congestion. Where video analysis software can alert officials to someone about to commit a property crime.
The technology to enable such capabilities isn’t a faraway dream but is something actually being deployed now in municipalities around the world.
IBM, for example, has just come out with its IBM Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities, a solution designed to “help cities of all sizes gain a holistic view of information across city departments and agencies.” The operations center draws on data from sources across the city — sensors, video cameras, communications systems, criminal databases and more — to help officials not only get a picture of what’s happening in real time in different parts of the city’s infrastructure but anticipate when and where potential problems might crop up and set in motion plans to deal with those.
For example, IBM’s system, working with video technology from companies like Cisco Systems, can run video analysis software to “instantly detect and respond to physical security threats.” The Intelligent Operations Center can also create “what if” scenarios for city traffic, generate best responses and send out automated messages to officials and citizens who need to know about changes in traffic or routes.
Panasonic, meanwhile, recently unveiled its vision of creating a more intelligent city from the ground up: Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town. To be built on vacant property that once housed a Panasonic factory, the 1,000-household town is to be developed using the company’s “entire solutions” business model, with planning for everything from maintenance guidelines and one-stop shopping for city services to mobility sharing and home-based energy storage.
Data-driven “intelligent” cities won’t be only cleaner, more efficient and less wasteful of resources, but more resilient too. Siemens, for instance, pictures how real-time interactive information could help officials in a city like Houston tailor responses for every aspect of operations — including traffic, wastewater, healthcare and electricity — to be as prepared as possible for an oncoming monster hurricane.
While any one city can become much smarter, no one company can help it do so. All the companies mentioned previously work with a virtual army of partners to make it possible to capture an all-in-one image of city systems. In rolling out its Intelligent Operations Center, IBM is teaming up with firms like AECOM, Badger Meter, Esri, Telvent and VirtualAgililty. Panasonic, too, has numerous teammates helping with its smart-city goals, including Accenture, Mitsui & Company, Nihon Sekkei, ORIX Corporation and Tokyo Gas Company. Just like cities themselves, the systems to make them smarter require numerous puzzle pieces to come together to make sense of “big data.”
“All cities are made up of a complex system of systems that are all inextricably linked,” says Anne Altman, general manager of IBM’s Global Public Sector.