Can Smart Cities Save Energy — and Save the World?

Over a million people are killed on the world’s roadways every year, and the economic costs of urban traffic congestion exceed $15 billion in the United States alone. But as a growing number of cities turn to “smart” technologies for managing city infrastructures, those numbers could shrink dramatically, thanks to new digital solutions for clean, efficient urban transportation.

What Makes a City Smart?

“Smart” technology is digital-speak for a new generation of highly interactive devices with the ability to take on a growing range of functions autonomously and to communicate with their users and each other. That constant connectivity among previously inert devices, like phones, watches, and even appliances and cars, creates what’s now being called “the Internet of Things.”

For most of us, smart technology begins at home, in the form of AI-enhanced home monitoring systems that allow users to set things like security, lighting and temperature from a remote location. But the same kind of technology is being used on a much grander scale to improve the functioning of entire cities.

The Urban Internet of Things

Metro-level smart technology has been called the “Urban Internet of Things” — tools such as cloud computing services and artificial intelligence (AI) assisted data monitoring that can perform tasks such as tracking and adjusting the delivery of utility services and other functions essential for keeping the city running safely. When applied to city transportation systems, these tools can provide the fastest return on investment of all areas where smart technology is used.

Smart Technology for the Streets

On the streets, AI-enhanced technology can help reduce congestion, improve safety and keep carbon emissions down. Smart sensors adjust traffic signals to accommodate the flow of traffic and help buses stay on schedule. Public transportation timetables can be updated in real-time so that travelers can check wait times and schedules via computer and smartphone apps. With real-time data monitoring, bus lines and taxi services can put more vehicles on the road when needed at peak times.

With smart technology, sensors can track the availability of parking spaces around the city, which reduces congestion, energy use and pollution caused by long searches for a parking space. Smartphone or in-vehicle apps can alert drivers to construction and accident zones, and provide streaming updates about road conditions and travel times. New smart vehicles can even communicate with each other to warn about impending collisions and other unsafe situations.

AI-supported city systems can help cities manage resources more efficiently, reduce Co2 emissions and keep people connected. Smart cities support clean, efficient transportation solutions — and those solutions benefit both the people and the planet.