Fans of "The Jetsons" cartoon decades ago gravitated to the show because of its crazy futuristic technology. But many of the made-up contraptions that once lit up kids' imaginations are here, and have been for a while. Think about the things people take for granted now, but didn't exist when George, Jane, Judy and Elroy lived on the screen. At that time, there were no such things as flat screen LCD televisions, the electric toothbrush, belt conveyors that move people at the airport, video calling and vending machines that pop out sandwiches, salads and smoothies.
Thanks to inexpensive computing, sensors, data storage and cellular connectivity, cities are becoming more CompTIA, a nonprofit information technology trade association which recently released its "Building Smarter Cities (PDF)" report, which showcased a handful of "smart cities" doing some remarkable things.Jetson-like, especially considering the availability of robotics, big data and other cutting-edge technologies. That's according to Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research and market intelligence for
Houston: Water Management
The most populous city in Texas was losing 15 billion gallons of water a year--about 15 percent of its supply--to leaky pipes. After implementing embedded sensors and intelligent pump control systems the municipal was better able to regulate water flow and target issues before they mushroomed into big problems. Houston's smart city solutions also have addressed water quality, irrigation, storm water runoff, flooding and the management of household water.
New York: Energy Conservation
Older buildings use large amounts of energy but the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) aims to do something about it. It is spearheading a program through which buildings better manage energy via sensors, smart meters and big data analytics. NYSERDA funding and expertise went into a big project touted on displays tourists are noticing while waiting in line for the observation deck of the Empire State Building. The national landmark has been retrofitted with technology projected to save 38 percent of the building's energy and $4.4 million annually.
Ohio's capital recently won the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge and will use part of the $40 million prize on electric self-driving shuttles operating in concert with a new rapid transit center. The city's new system also will enable improved data exchange between vehicles, traffic signals and other elements within the transportation infrastructure.
Copenhagen: Public Safety
Denmark's capital has replaced more than half its street lamps with energy efficient LED lamps outfitted with sensors which allow them to automatically dim according to the time of day, or light up in the presence of a walker or biker. The city also has installed video surveillance systems with high-tech analytics, drones which fight forest fires and systems that allow citizens to report and monitor incidents.
Beijing and Elsewhere: Environment
A consortium of 14 European nations called CITISENSE is establishing a network of "citizen observatories" which monitor air quality--which can vary according to neighborhood--via wearable sensors. Essentially, it's the crowdsourcing of environmental monitoring using networks of sensors and analytics.
Other High-Tech Frontiers
Uber has deployed a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Many cities across the U.S. use sensors to detect gunfire and alert law enforcement. Oh, and forget about the Jetsons--smart city technology is playing out in another example of life imitating art (think Minority Report). Not only are a handful of companies experimenting with using facial recognition in advertising, crime can be predicted, as well. "We have seen applications in the area of analytics simply having better mechanisms to aggregate different streams of data and to better understand crime patterns," he says. "but also to visualize where there may be various crimes occurring and then using predictive analytics to anticipate and try to head off the crime before it occurs."
A New Kind of Talent
As cities go high-tech, they will need help from workers and firms which understand networking, cyber security, integration, analytics, how technology will perform in different environments, as well as ongoing troubleshooting and maintenance. "If you take an example of embedding technology in infrastructure or smart street lights, it will be exposed to the elements," he says. "If it's driven by solar power, it's one thing if your network goes down at home or in the office, but you can imagine if there is a critical failure and technology is controlling highway systems or other infrastructures... that's really a situation that cities can't have. "