Why smart cities will rely on edge computing for success
Despite living in a country full of wide-open spaces and beautiful rural landscapes, most Australians opt to live in cities. Indeed, even if the COVID-19 pandemic and the confinement of populations around the world makes it difficult for some people to live in cities, urban populations will continue to grow at such a rate that only a smart city strategy will improve the lives of all residents.
According to the ABS, 71% of people live in our major centres while just one in 10 live in towns with fewer than 10,000 residents. As a result, the nation’s cities are struggling to keep up with demands for housing, transportation and support services.
With this urbanisation trend showing no sight of slowing, city planners are having to adjust their thinking. They need to figure out how cities can cope with rising populations while avoiding any detrimental impacts for those already living there.
The challenge is exacerbated by issues such as air pollution. Sprawling suburbs and a heavy reliance on cars for commuting are degrading air quality and reducing the livability of urban centres.
On a more positive note, new technologies and data sources are helping planners and urban authorities take a new approach to the issue. They’re helping make the concept of a smart city a reality. However, Google Sidewalk Lab’s recent departure from its grand-scale Toronto waterfront smart city project would suggest that investment should be made incrementally and ensure the wider community is onside from the outset.
Making cities smart
Creators of smart cities have a goal of optimising everything from transportation and energy distribution to the services provided to residents. This is achieved by installing sensors in places such as parking lots, public transport hubs, rubbish trucks and streetlights. The data collected provides vast amounts of information on the behaviours, habits and needs of inhabitants.
Lying at the heart of smart cities are the digital technologies that use the collected data to support transformation. One of the most important of these technologies is edge computing.
Unlike more traditional, centralised systems, edge computing presents a new decentralised way to tackle the challenges of urban growth. It allows large amounts of data to be processed and analysed instantaneously on the collection devices themselves rather than having to be sent to a central data centre.
This is important because traditional data centres were not designed to handle the volumes of data generated by large sensor networks. As connected devices and services grow, there is a risk of network congestion and degraded performance. Edge computing overcomes this challenge.
One example of edge computing at work can be seen in traffic management. A range of companies are using the approach to generate real-time views of traffic patterns and create intelligent rerouting services for vehicles. City congestion is reduced and citizens’ lives run more smoothly.
When putting edge computing to use, data security becomes an important consideration. City planners and designers need to build an extendable, scalable and secure architecture in the cloud to ensure data remains secure and is effectively managed. In this way, edge systems can perform the initial processing and analysing of data, with further analysis taking place in data centre or cloud platforms. Security is maintained at all times.
Open data access
Once data is being collected within a smart city infrastructure, access needs to be provided to other organisations involved in planning and rolling out infrastructure and services. The digital platforms deployed need to be able to collect data at scale and create a single point of trust where that data can be quality-proofed, categorised and protected.
The platforms must also provide integration, sharing, discovery and governance. With data rapidly becoming one of world’s most valuable commodities, ensuring its quality is maintained at all times is vital.
For a smart city strategy to succeed, authorities will need to commit to a comprehensive data strategy. This will ensure the correct types of data are being collected, processed and shared with interested parties.
Australia’s urban lifestyle has brought significant value to citizens for many years. By embracing the concept of smart cities and improving their efficient functioning, they will remain desirable places to live for decades to come.
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