From Connected Devices To Smart Cities By 2020

Everyone keeps talking about the Internet of Things revolution but what does that term actually mean?

Well in recent years we have seen more and more internet connected ‘things’ coming onto the market and it is estimated that this year there will be 1.1 billion internet-enabled things being used; a figure which is set to increase to 9.7 billion by 2020 if Gartner’s estimation is correct.

Alongside the term Internet of Things, many are also referring to the term ‘smart cities’. This term refers to a city which has sensors incorporated into the public infrastructure. These sensors are monitoring devices that can keep track of everything from traffic and parking to street lighting.

How will smart cities work?

Sensors incorporated into public infrastructure, such as those described above, might well concern many people but the fact of the matter is, such real-time data can have a really positive effect. The government and companies in charge of monitoring the sensors will have access to big data that is fed through to them wirelessly which they can then analyse and use what they learn to amend, develop and innovate much of what we interact (and have problems) with on a daily basis.

Access to this real-time, accurate information can therefore help to make cities a lot more efficient and better suited to its inhabitants.

Of course this information also offers a very positive advantage for the commercial world, which can use such data to better serve its customers and up revenue streams, a fact which Bettina Tratz-Ryan Research Vice President at Gartner recognises: “Smart cities represent a great revenue opportunity for technology and services providers, but providers need to start to plan, engage and position their offerings now”.

However, the problem remains that people are scared of being monitored and when we read reports such as that published by Gartner, which claims that by 2020 humans will be outnumbered three-to-one by connected devices, it really is rather scary!

How can this issue be addressed?

No matter how many positives we are told about smart cities, the fact remains that human beings do not like to feel as if they are being watched the entire time, especially when they are in the confines of their own home.

There have been many incidences in the past where efforts to monitor seemingly innocent goings on have led to furious outbursts from people. For instance the efforts of Bournemouth local government in 2007 when they added microchips to people’s wheelie bins so that the weight of each bin could be measured. Their big mistake was that they did so secretly.

Understandably residents were deeply annoyed because they felt they were being spied on. A few years down the line and the microchips are actually back on the bins now but after a totally different approach was used, a very inclusive and transparent process, in order to reassure residents that they were not being spied on.

Technology is only scary when we don’t fully understand it and why it is being used in the first place. If companies and the government take the time to reassure and explain exactly what is being monitored and measured, people would perhaps not feel so wary about the idea.

The positives of the Internet of Things are made very clear in countries such as Germany, where they are currently trialling a number of internet-enabled projects in their efforts to build their own smart cities. For instance an NFC tracker wristband is being trialled for the elderly. This wristband is designed to be worn by elderly people and works by, in the event of an emergency, sending out a signal to alert those at the other end to signal that the wearer is in trouble.

Tratz-Ryan claims that the trial is proving popular: “You can choose to be monitored by the NFC trackers and lots of older people are signing up for this monitoring service, as it’s for safety and they chose to be monitored”.

There is no doubt that there are many benefits to a smart city, from people being traced and saved in life-threatening situations and stolen bikes being tracked, to intelligent LED lighting, motion detection and even healthcare monitoring.

So, whether or not you’re for or against the idea, it is happening…you might as well be excited and embrace the positives that smart technology and the Internet of Things is bringing our generation and look forward to the future…2020!

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