Smart cities are with us today. Much more than the technology that sustains them, the cities of the future are built on a willingness to change, to progress and to meet the challenges that are on the horizon.


In 2002 Steven Spielberg invited 15 specialists in technology to spend three days in a hotel in Santa Monica, California and to think about what the world would be like in 2054. This think thank included the architect Peter Calthorpe, the writer Douglas Coupland, the computational scientists Neil Gershenfeld and Jaron Lanier, the biomedical engineer Shaun Jones, and several members of the consultant Global Business Network. The aim was to provide a “plausible reality” for the film Minority Report, today a cult classic and a benchmark when talking about the technology that will influence the world as we know it. Multi-touch screens, retina scanners, self-driven cars, drones in the shape of insects, gesture recognition, personalized marketing and crime prevention software appear to be technologies that are a long way off. However, the future materialises every day, and very often the engine for change is the willingness to transform what seems like science fiction today into technology that adapts to reality.

According to the figures in the CBRE report Future of Retail 2030, the world’s population will hit 8,500 million that year, compared to the 7,600 million alive today.

People will consume 50% more food and 30% more water than today. Cities will be a refuge for 70% of the world’s population, and since the climate goals have not been met since 2017, some areas of the planet are too polluted to be inhabited. On the other hand, the increase in the global population and changes in the climate will compel people to rethink their habits and way of life.

Technology that serves citizens

In 2011, the researchers Mark Deakin and Husam Al Weir made a list of the factors that contribute to the definition of a smart city: the use of information and communications technology (ICT), its incorporation in the government system and the application of that technology over a particular area, so as to promote the sharing of knowledge between the city’s inhabitants. For that to be possible there must be an infrastructure that receives, analyses, interprets and activates responses in real time. This volume of data is known as big data and is intimately linked to the operationalization capacity of that information, that is to say, to the Internet of Things (IoT). This is a network that links all existing sensors in the system, to be found in devices such as smartphones, electrical goods and domotic systems. The CBRE study Urban Big Data and Real Estate Markets exemplifies how that relationship is handled. The big data and the IoT allow the “traditional” functions of a city, its government, education, health, architecture and master planning, services and resources management to adapt to the real needs of its citizens.

Cities of the future, today!

Some smart cities are a paradigm for the metropolises that have still not started down the path to a smarter future. Among them Singapore is one of the most innovative. Since 2014 it has been possible to detect if someone is smoking in a no smoking zone or if someone throws litter on the ground. On the other hand, it is possible to know the movements of any vehicle that is registered with the system. Most of the data collected goes to an online platform, called Virtual Singapore, which shows, in real time, how the city is working. In the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, the Smart Dubai initiative involves 50 smart services and 22 government entities. Through the Dubai Now app a person who is speeding receives a fine by email and does not need to leave the app to pay the fine.

Barcelona is another example. The city is going to save hundreds of millions of Euros on energy costs just because it has installed adaptive public lighting systems which turn on and off depending on the level of activity in the surrounding area. On the other hand, the city has an urban waste system equipped with a vacuum system that takes waste to underground pipes, thus minimizing the noise pollution from garbage trucks as well as reducing odours and costs.  

In Lisbon, initiatives such as the adoption of smart electricity meters will allow for the automation of energy management, improving the quality of service and the information available to consumers, thus lowering costs and increasing energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. In terms of mobility, electric vehicles technology such as emov from PSA, or the shared electric bicycles from Órbita and Siemens, are sustainable alternatives where the complementary goal is to promote the use of public transport.

A study by Juniper Research concluded that by 2021 cities will save up to 19,000 million dollars if they switch to being a smart city. But in order to save money, one has to invest it. The smart cities market is expected to attract 15,000 million dollars by 2021 just in big data handling software. Now it is up to governments, companies and citizens to make their cities a better place and build the (our) future the smartest way.

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