When news came out that a Bill Gates-funded investment group will fund a smart city west of Phoenix, Arizona, there wasn’t much information on what that might look like. The city will reportedly be “designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs,” according to the Arizona Republic. As of today, there are few examples of how this might turn out.
Though making smart cities a reality is difficult, the excitement is understandable. The excitement isn’t just coming from residents, either. Companies have a lot to gain as governments and other organizations pour money into filling cities and buildings with connected devices.
Smart cities are still nascent, but their potential is huge. At least in terms of revenue, the growth of the commercial IoT sector can make a big difference.
IoT startups have so far been concentrating on the smart home market, but companies have already caught on to the advantages of building smart factories and warehouses. Connected technology is now making its way into offices, and cities want to create more seamless experiences for their residents, too.
The smart home hype has been great for getting consumers excited about the technology, but the commercial sector is where the tech has a real opportunity to become mainstream.
IoT technology can save cities a lot of money and make things much more convenient for both residents and visitors. Cities want to invest in this tech even when they’re not getting funding from Bill Gates.
A number of smart technologies are already being used in cities across the world. Sensors are used to manage water supplies and monitor for pollutants. A number of different technologies are also helping manage traffic and parking with real-time updates on road signage.
Smart streetlights are a popular way to save electricity and notify operators when maintenance is required. GE Lighting is working on technology for its streetlights that can also identify and locate gunfire. This is probably most relevant to the U.S., but it shows how smart city technology is already being developed based on local needs.
Inside smart cities, of course, are smart buildings. Combined with smart cities, this is one of the fastest growing areas of IoT.
To some degree, startups are already getting ready for this bold, smart future. Connected tech has come to be a significant portion of the Startup Launchpad show in Hong Kong. One of the standout companies this year was Magnet, which uses a combination of GPS, beacons, and geomagnetic positioning to help people connect through augmented reality.
At an event like SULP, the advantages of Magnet’s technology is clear. One use currently in development is specifically for conferences and tradeshows. After mapping a venue, Magnet’s tech allows people to navigate a floor or building though an AR environment on their smartphones, giving people precise directions and information about other people at the same venue.
This kind of technology is a win-win for municipal governments and private companies/organizations. This is why a survey from Black & Veatch showed about 75 percent of respondents believe public/private partnerships are the most effective smart-city financing model. Government grants and subsidies were also believed to be effective by 52 percent of respondents.
As lucrative as the commercial sector is, government contracts may be getting harder to win. Budget constraints are the biggest obstacle to implementing smart city initiatives, according to Black & Veatch.
Regardless, dreaming big has its advantages. The boldest companies have a chance to completely change a city’s landscape and leave their mark.
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