Integration is the Key to Urban Evolution: Technical Challenges for the Smart City and the Internet of Thins

Integration is the Key to Urban Evolution: Technical Challenges for the Smart City and the Internet of Thins

Po-Jung Shih*

Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute (MIC), Institute for Information Industry (III), Taiwan

(Received 1 November 2016; Published on line 1 December 2016)
*Corresponding author: linahlli@micmail.iii.org.tw
DOI: 10.5875/ausmt.v6i4.1315

According to the statistics and estimates of the United Nations, half of the world's current population resides in cities. In addition, there will be 91 cities with populations of over 5 million by 2025, and 36 of them will be megacities with populations of over 10 million. This signifies that cities shall play an increasingly important role in human civilization. However, as populations continue to concentrate in cities, more challenges shall arise in areas such as transportation, energy, housing, disaster prevention, pollution prevention, and various life-support systems and the issue for effectively improving "use efficiency" would need to be addressed.

Challenges brought forth by concentrated population and issues in the efficiency of the supply of various life support systems (including software and hardware) have made the design of a smarter city a point of concern. In the last five years, several cities in Europe, the Americas, East Asia, and even the Middle East have come forward with diversified and colorful designs for a "smart city."

One question that must be asked of the development is: What exactly is the essence of smart cities and how do we observe them? If we wish to enhance the efficiency in the use of various life-support systems, what other technological barriers remain to be solved?

Smart City as an Open Innovation Lab/Space

Rather than referring to the smart city as an industry, we should instead refer to it as an Open Innovation Lab/Space for the fulfillment of numerous new technologies. This would broaden our imagination for smart cities and free it from the existing industrial scope and definition. The key to the perceived success of a smart city lies not in how complicated its technological applications are, but in whether it could create a sustainable business model or even an economic ecosystem.

Evaluations of smart city designs around the world has shown that they all have two basic traits in general: (1) A "problem-solving" concept of the smart city and how it provides a solution to the problems and conditions in cities, (2) The technologies incorporated in the smart city have high "applicability" and therefore the main issue has become how to integrate technologies from different sectors.

Optimized Technology Integration is the Key to Urban Evolution

If we observe the technologies involved in smart cities, we can classify them into eight technological applications and roughly five layers: the "power supply layer," "equipment layer," "communication layer," "processing layer," and "application layer." At the present stage of development, each layer has its own challenges to overcome (please refer to Table 1.)

By distinguishing the technical layers in the smart city, it is clear that extremely complex issues are involved. Different technical deployments would be necessary in accordance with different demands. For instance, video transmission is required in applications for police administration and transportation, and the communication layer would be more reliant on wired optic fiber transmission. Wireless transmission would run into issues related to high costs. Perhaps we could look at the smart city this way: the main issues are not the maturity of technologies but how the operator "identifies issues" and how to come up with the optimal integration tests between different technologies.

The Smart City Market Gives Birth to A New Form of Innovation Industry

As described above, the smart city is regarded as an Open Innovation Lab/Space. From the perspective of industrial innovation, the space can bring forth two clear types of innovation industry:

(1) Innovation Industry for System Solutions

The key in establishing a system, in addition to the maturity of the technologies, involves the integration of various technologies such as: IoT equipment, wireless communication, and network structure etc. They would form a new type of industry in the experiment of smart cities in the future. This industry would encompass software and hardware as well as the export and expansion of solutions for different demands; as the system is exported, it would also advance the development of the semiconductor and IC industries.

(2) Innovative Application Services from the Extension of Data

Data analysis and applications are also another important innovative industry brought about by the smart city, and they include data storage, database management, digitalized currency, innovative financial services etc. They would form a "comprehensive urban big data industry" through the experiment of smart cities in the future. Analysis of urban data could provide smart governance for public administrations as well as provide various data convergence, analyses, and identification of new business opportunities to facilitate the advancement of innovative commercial services.

In conclusion, the smart city is expected to bring forth public and industrial benefits. However, we could also conclude that: "Integration" is the keyword to the successful development of the smart city. Its challenges include taking into consideration and integrating multiple technology items in different stages of development as well as the core issue of how to identify and analyze urban issues in order to provide adaptive total solutions. Faced with such issues, we must rely on expertise of information engineering as well as the expertise in urban planning, spatial design, and social sciences in order to succeed in building a safe and efficient city.

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