Cesta k smart cities začína v cloude

The road to smart cities starts in the cloud

The potential of digital technologies to improve life in towns and cities is undeniable. Several Slovak towns launched the era of smart cities by introducing equipment such as sensors public parking spots, intelligent cameras that can distinguish what is happening, or smart bins that announce when they are full.

Such pilot projects are useful for letting local government and citizens alike become better acquainted with the concept of smart cities. They make it possible to examine associated technologies and check out their functionality. They might not, however, show the impact on the overall quality of life in the town if applied everywhere. 

Starting to build up a smart town by showpieces is good also for the evangelisation of the topic, but conceptually it is better to start building a smart city from the bottom.  

What are the foundations of a smart city? Data. They tell us about the existing status, show trends and expose needs. Useful data is now produced by everything that even flirts with the world of technologies, with no need for only equipment of “tomorrow”, as even the traditional equipment that has served the city for years can be used.  

Data today are predominantly isolated and when they interconnect, they have an even greater reference power. If we marry data from the cash register of the town spa centre, for example, with data about the weather, nearby events, or survey on the satisfaction of swimmers, we receive a comprehensive and detailed image that we can then use to create a spa visitor prediction model or the order of priorities in its renovation. Data that describe other data are also highly valuable, namely metadata, which enables the stitching together.

Establishing one’s own data store is a difficult task for a town. “Guessing” the required size or “shape” is impossible, as both change in time. A correct data store must be shapeless and infinitely large. These are the exact attributes of Azure cloud from Microsoft, with which we here at exe have extensive experience.

Azure IoT hub

Azure offers much more than the collection of data for smart cities, not just a bottomless store. The platform-based services can receive, process and also reversely control a wide variety of end devices. After step one - the collection and connection of existing data inputs - their visualization and analysis should follow. Azure is able to display data in various forms and graphs, or place them on geographic maps. Even simply displaying data inputs in a clear form is able to uncover various anomalies or trends.  

In the next step, Azure helps build up an analytical model that is able to deduce various observations or predict future values from available data. We have written various blog pieces on machine learning. Thanks to this, the city would be able to use available data to predict an outage in certain equipment, identify various extraordinary events, or predict the interest of citizens in any of the offered services.

In the last step, Azure can serve as an automation platform for applying verified models. Dim the street lights when its a full moon? Don’t send the rubbish truck to collect from a half empty bin. Boost the presence of municipal police based on a predictive model of criminality in the given locality? None of this is the music of the future in Azure, for instance as it successfully implemented the last one in Chicago.

A smart city is not created by city hall or some suppliers. They will have to join forces and will have to be helped by the most element – citizens. This is possibly the most important task the cloud could perform in a smart city - to link everything up together, but that doesn’t mean just a sensor with a database, but also an objective with an idea, will with a vision.

Because what is a city if not its people?