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The evolution of the term “Smart Cities”

"they've become such a ubiquitous heartbeat of daily life that we often don't even use the term smart city."

I recently heard the sentiment that “smart cities are a bit 2017, aren’t they?”

It’s an interesting statement, but one I disagree with. Either smart cities are something of a bygone era, perhaps a great idea that never really moved beyond testbeds and pilots, or they’ve become such a ubiquitous heartbeat of daily life that we often don’t even use the term smart city. We maybe even wake up to them every day… i.e. Amazon Echo, Google Home Voice Controller. 

In much of the world, cities have become digital, sensor-embedded, and data generating. A smart city is one that, from a tech standpoint, relies on AI and machine learning, cybersecurity, and a strong foundation of an ethical approach to surveillance and data privacy just as much as sensors and IoT. This convergence of different kinds of tech and the philosophies that underpin it means that we do not always refer to innovation strictly under the term “smart cities”, but there’s still an abundance of things happening to get excited about. Let’s take a look.

Sidewalk inspection (Kitchener)

Image source : here

In 2021, the Canadian City of Kitchener partnered with Swap Robotics to make footpath inspection – finding broken and damaged footpaths – easier. For the City, footpath inspection is a legislated annual requirement. Traditionally, this inspection program required city staff to walk the entire sidewalk network reviewing, measuring, and identifying defects for future repair. Swap Robotics leverages smart sensors and artificial intelligence within its autonomous robotic vehicle (the robots were chaperoned to ensure full footpath safety). The robots can detect surface defects through sensors and artificial intelligence, and can provide:

 ‣   Efficiencies in collection time.

 ‣   High level of accuracy.

 ‣   The ability to include other metrics that support other areas of the City’s operations. 


FloodNet (NYC)

Image source: here

When Hurricanes Henri and Ida hit New York City in August and September of 2021, FloodNet offered a range of previously unavailable data, including precise times, depths, and behavior of flooding events, demonstrating the ability to provide this information in real-time. 

A collaboration of various New York City and Academic departments, FloodNet was designed to source real-time data to inform the City’s emergency notification and response, flood mitigation efforts, and to help calibrate future flooding models. FloodNet sensors are now being deployed citywide as a part of a broader landmark plan to protect New Yorkers from dangerous climate change-fueled extreme storms.


Smart COVID- 19 kiosks (Korea)

COVID-19 created a catalyst for rapid innovation. Especially in efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. An example is smart kiosks in Seoul, Korea. 

Image source: here

In August 2020, Seongdong-gu in Seoul, introduced the nation’s first smart shelter,’ Seongdong Smart Shelter’. The kiosk is fitted with CCTV and transparent tempered glass on three sides to show approaching buses in real-time. It detects abnormal behavior around the Seongdong Police Station and Fire Station with artificial intelligence. It has several safety features, including cameras and acoustic sensors to detect abnormal sounds such as screams. UV air steriliser blocks 99% of viruses in the air, and an automatic screen door controls access with a thermal imager, checking temperatures to reduce the risk of COVID-19. 

Free public Wi-Fi, mobile phone chargers, tables and chairs, and space for strollers and wheelchairs are available. Solar-powered digital signage provides information on buses and subway timetables. 

All systems in the shelter are remotely controlled and controlled at the ‘Seongdong-gu Smart City Integrated Control Centre’ using IoT. All internal access information, as well as system operation and management, are coordinated at the centre. In any situation, 24-hour integrated control is possible. Ten smart shelters have been rolled out across the City.


Smart connected vehicle environment (Columbus)

Image source : here

There are several corridors in central Columbus, Ohio, with high traffic congestion rates, leading to poor mobility conditions for emergency vehicles, freight and buses. There are also major corridors and intersections in Columbus with high crash numbers involving vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. 

In response, the City of Columbus started a pilot in 2020 where it installed onboard units on public and private vehicles to allow vehicles to “talk” to each other (vehicle-to-vehicle) and receive in-car alerts like blind-spot detection or rear-end collision warning. The onboard units also allowed vehicles to talk to traffic signals and other roadway infrastructure to provide in-car alerts like red light violation warnings. Traffic signals will prioritise connected COTA buses, which will help keep them running on time. Emergency vehicles will also get the green light, allowing them to get through intersections more safely and quickly.

While the pilot results are still in development due to the delays of COVID-19, the City has provided a valuable playbook of how to set up the necessary infrastructure, recruit residents, and infrastructural test results.


Smart Cities are most certainly a lot more than a catch phrase, using innovative technology to solve city problems is the new norm. IoT efforts are forever evolving in areas of public life, from waste management to lighting and public transport infrastructure. As this article demonstrates, the desire to respond to local challenges provides a valuable opportunity to create responsive tech that puts residents at the heart of their City.



Theo Giannopoulos, Marketing & Business Development Manager, Davra Connect on LinkedIn

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