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Cities are about to get a whole lot smarter

It’s not just start-ups and entrepreneurs who live on the edge of tech. Governments around the world are trying to find ways to make their cities smarter, and some of the solutions they’re implementing are wickedly awesome.

When governments speak about making their cities smarter, they’re talking about unifying the tech behind some or all the city’s different services. And, where necessary, hooking some of that tech up to the internet.

Bringing together systems like power, water, policing, traffic, lighting and garbage can give a city manager a very comprehensive view of a city – especially when seen in action on a giant screen.

When describing the implementation of their own Smart City projects, Huawei described it as looking almost like a video game, and it’s easy to see why.

For instance, say someone decides to take a manhole cover from the street as a souvenir. It might normally take hours before anyone in the local council is even aware of it, let alone able to respond. But with smart city tech, a sensor hooked up to the manhole cover would alert city management as soon as it was removed, letting them respond in minutes rather than hours.

While waiting for a fix, city management could then tap into the digital signage on the roads and warn people to be careful, or divert traffic with bollards and traffic lights. In the future, you probably won’t even need a human middleman – an AI could manage the entire process itself.

More practically, smart city tech can dramatically reduce a city’s environmental footprint. By adding smarts to streetlights, we could reduce their power use by switching them off when there’s nobody nearby.

Huawei Smart City demonstration

Face detection tech

The potential implications are wide-reaching. Garbage workers could get alerts when the bins on the street are filling up, giving them a chance to empty them before they overflow. Even water leaks or busted mains pipes can be detected and fixed before they end up wasting a ton of water.

Outside of making our council workers jobs a bit easier, smart city tech can also be used to make our cities a lot safer.

In a decision which might stir up a bit of controversy, cities can combine their CCTV cameras, police body cameras and surveillance drones to create a city-wide video feed. An AI can then work its magic on these feeds, enabling tracking of cars and individuals, identification of weapons or dangerous objects and analysis of population density.

Privacy concerns aside, these sorts of systems do have their uses. Criminals can be tracked from the scene of the crime, people with weapons can be stopped before they can do any harm and the flow of large crowds can be better managed.

Cities are about to get a whole lot smarter!

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And it’s a proven concept. The Traffic Bureau of Shenzhen in China were recently able to use the Smart City system to rescue a kidnapped 3-year-old after only 15 hours of searching. They were able to find the moment the kid was taken and track the kidnapper as they made their way through the city.

Huawei implemented a similar system in the Kenyan city of Nairobi, helping the city dramatically reduce the amount of violent crime taking place. By linking the city’s 1,800 cameras into a single network, the government was able to detect, identify, and snapshot crimes as they happened.

Predictive policing cameras

As you’d expect, it ain’t cheap to transition into a smart city, so it’s not something you’ll see everywhere just yet. But as technology improves and gets cheaper, expect to see this kind of tech being implemented to varying degrees all around the world.

Disclaimer: The author of this post was sent to Shanghai to cover the Huawei Connect conference courtesy of Huawei.

Photo by Jesse Collins on Unsplash

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