Smart Cities are Taking Connectivity to the Next Level

Barcelona: The most wired city in the world

Fortune, July 29, 2015. Image credit: frankieleon

For cities the possibilities seem endless. Officials around the world who find themselves grappling with tight budgets and rocketing bills have seized on this tsunami of data as a way to cut costs and overhaul systems that have barely changed in decades. Juniper Research, which this year ranked Barcelona its No. 1 smart city, estimates cities will save about $17 billion a year in energy bills by 2019 by installing smart streetlights and devices like parking and garbage sensors. “The smart-city concept is barely off the ground,” says Juniper senior analyst Steffen Sorrell. “The endgame figure will be much larger.” Indeed, McKinsey Global Institute says in a June report that by 2025 cities will save up to $1.7 trillion a year in delivering services if they deploy new digital systems on a large scale.

Clearly city officials are hoping the outsize estimates of savings prove true. Boston, for example, has inserted sensors to monitor transportation, parking, and energy use, and installed solar-powered street benches that measure pollution and noise. London is developing 3-D maps of its underground wires and pipes to try to stop different utilities from repeatedly digging up the same roads. Hamburg’s port, which handles about 10,000 ships a year, recently computerized its loading systems to synchronize offloading and reduce diesel-choking traffic jams.

Only parts of Barcelona have been rewired so far. But the results are already visible. Sensors measure how full trash containers are, allowing garbage trucks to empty them only once they’re filled. Parking-space sensors tell drivers, via a phone app, which are vacant, so they avoid circling around. Barcelona reworked its bus routes into an efficient grid rather than the confusing tangle that existed before, increasing ridership 30% in four years. Electronic bus stops now show schedules and local sights, and could soon have ads tailored to the neighborhood.

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