The crammed railway carriage, the polluted air breathed in from heavy lorries and dodging between cars to cross the road – all phrases that describe everyday life in a large urban metropolis.
But researchers, architects and academics are imagining how to create 'smart cities' – places that use technology to determine their urban planning. The result intends to be a more environmentally friendly city that is a much more pleasant and healthy place to live, and a much safer place to be.
Last week, news broke that Dyson was planning an electric car for release in 2020, in yet another indication of how tech behemoths believe the city of the future is going to look.
We discovered what automobile giant Ford thought of the conurbations of the future at its City of Tomorrow event in London, which included TED Talks: The Future of Mobility.
What are smart cities?
The definition is not exact, but it an urban area that uses the latest technology available such as sensors, connected devices and real time analytics to solve and the city’s challenges, and plan a better environment for the future.
One MP saw smart cities as covering a place where every person can access real-time parking information, where urban parks offer free wi-fi and where rubbish collectors know when recycling bins are full.
Why are smart cities needed?
With urban populations only getting bigger - there are predicted to be 13 million people in London by 2050 - there needs to be a change in the way cities are managed to provide for this influx.
Overcrowding has led to people making the most of whatever open space there is available.
John Kwant, vice president of city solutions at Ford Smart Mobility LLC, described how inhabitants have started to “reclaim streets or sidewalks”.
“Once that space is reclaimed for public user”, he said, “it is very hard to take it back because people reclaim [it]”.
The desire people have for a space of their own shows how urban planning of the future will have to contend with increasing numbers of people, but no more space. Clever management using digital tools and real time management of resources can help this.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced a £1.6 million clean tech incubator called Better Futures in June to help the battle against pollution and climate change in the capital.
What are smart city projects?
Ford has created its own ride-sharing app, Chariot, to help reduce the number of cars on city streets. It is currently being trialled in four cities in the US – Austin, New York, Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area.
The plan is to use a mini-bus to transport people along popular routes. You can sign up for afor via an app, and in March 2017 it reported 100,000 monthly riders.
Closer to home, this side of the pond, there’s Ford smart benches which are in London and allow tired walkers to rest and charge their phone.
Is BT working on smart city projects?
BT is also researching and investigating smart cities, including projects in Milton Keynes and City Verve in Manchester, exploring how the Internet of Things can help make cities more efficient.
This involves collecting data on how people use a city, from how much water is used, to car parking.
In Milton Keynes, BT, Milton Keynes Council and the Open University have developed MK:Smart to look at smart city projects. For example, there has been a successful pilot to deploy sensors from Deteq at the city’s railway station to prove the feasibility of city-wide parking space optimisation.
Each of the parking bays had a sensor, which detected the arrival and departure of a vehicle and send the information back to a data hub. This information can then be processed and made available on a council website.
Check out the video below to find out more.