Smart Cities Present New Challenges and Opportunities for App Developers

Laetitia Gazel Anthoine
Founder & CEO of Connecthings

The foundation of the modern smart city is not concrete or steel, its information. Cities are implementing sensors and meters to constantly collect data on infrastructure operations ranging from water usage, air quality, traffic patterns and city services. Businesses analyze data to improve their engagements with customers. Residents rely on their smartphones for virtually every aspect of their daily lives. The primary challenge to building a smart city is turning all of that data into actionable information. This presents a potential financial windfall for app developers, but reaping those rewards requires addressing three key challenges: Ensuring apps are proactive in interacting with one another, establishing new partnerships with government officials, and embracing open wireless communications protocols and interoperability standards.

smartcityApps typically operate on their own islands. When you go out to dinner, you may use one app to discover a new restaurant, another app to tell your friends when and where to meet, and yet another app to summon a ride. Each step requires you to initiate an action with your smartphone. That process works fine, but it can be so much more efficient with the horizontal integration of apps and the city’s network to create a more holistic experience.

Imagine you’re eating out, and your phone knows that you are likely to spend two hours at the restaurant. Before the check comes, it takes the initiative to summon an Uber to pick you up, and notifies you that the car is on its way. As you’re walking out the door, you receive notifications from near-by businesses offering coupons for coffee and dessert, and the next time that movie you want to see starts at your favorite cinema. Or if you’re taking the train, you receive similar real-time notifications from businesses at stops along your route.

The key component behind performing this level of user intent knowledge is an accurate location system down to the cm and a city-wide platform that are collecting and learning in real time about user intents from your apps, integrate them with places and context data flow, local businesses and government agencies data. When you use one app to book a reservation, the platform collects and analyzes that information, and share intents with other apps to take related actions based on your location, context, intent and the time.

Public-Private Sector Cooperation
That scenario just scratches the surface of how a smart city can provide a significant economic boost to the business sector and improve overall quality of life for residents and visitors. The technology exists today to enable government agencies, local businesses and residents to interact and share information in real-time, at the perfect moment where people need it in the city, at the train stations, bus stops, airports and even parking spaces and street lights. Converting these dumb places into interactive meaningful places enable commuters, residents and visitors to receive hyper-contextualized, proximity-based, relevant notifications tied to proximity services and businesses, transport and cultural information on their mobile devices.

Private and public entities can then engage with people in real-time while theyre riding on a train or waiting at a bus stop and collect data on the traffic in the cities. Government agencies, schools and public safety officials can generate alerts with relevant up-to-the-minute information about a broken water main on Main Street is affecting traffic patterns, businesses, schools and homes in the area.

Many municipalities are already working to turn their smart city plans into reality. In Austin, Tex., the Austin CityUP (ACUP) Consortium is leading the effort to use technology, data, and analytics to improve services, infrastructure, policies, and quality of life. One priority is turning the mass transit system from a means for simply getting from Point A to Point B into a real-time news and information delivery system. The first step is creating an open beacon network as part of theSmart 2nd Street Project, a busy shopping, dining, and entertainment district. ACUP has installed IoT devices (beacons, sensors, etc.) throughout a five-block section of 2nd Street (with plans to expand throughout the city).

The objective is two-fold. First, deliver notifications to people on their smartphone applications with updates on everything from bus arrival times to updates on news and community events and activities. Second, collect and analyze data on a myriad of things, including pedestrian and vehicle traffic, sound levels and air quality. This data will help project and city leaders identify safety issues, mass transit ridership, pedestrian traffic, and opportunities to improve quality of life.

Open Standards and Privacy
The critical component of any smart city system is that it is open and it must be available to everyone. The variety of systems complicates that effort because some systems cannot interoperate with others.

Analysts warn that this issue of interoperability threatens to derail smart city initiatives. IoT and M2M market research firmMachina Researchreports that alone could make smart cities projects 30 percent more expensive to deploy. That means city authorities and their technology partners may waste $341 billion by 2025 if they adopt a fragmented versus standardized approach to IoT solution deployment. Machina adds that using non-standardized solutions will drive global implementation costs for smart cities projects to $1.12 trillion over that time period.

That is why app developers should expect municipal officials to only partner with developers and systems integrators that offer their capacity across all mobile devices and across the city to ensure their residents can leverage the connected places, and will more easily scale as additional smart services are implemented city-wide in the future.

The role of the smart city is to create the conditions for success by fostering a culture of innovation. Municipal officials must come up with creative ways to finance the development of new technologies and services, establish communications protocols and rules that dictate how those technologies interact with one another, and finding solutions to the legal hurdles that come with information gathering and sharing on such a large scale. App developers can play a key role in facilitating these efforts.

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