Today, more people live in cities than in rural areas. This is of course a change from the 1800s and even the early part of the 20th century, when more people lived in the country. There are no signs of a slow-down in urbanization; in fact it's only speeding up. By 2050 total urban population is expected to reach a whopping 70 percent.

Humans are becoming increasingly connected wherever they live. CISCO  claims explosive growth rates for IoT devices, saying that 25 billion of them are now connected to the Internet, with this figure rising to 50 billion in just 5 years. This is an ongoing trend that isn't all that surprising given our increasingly interconnected society.  

How interconnected? Well, it starts with a pressing need. Experts say that in order to sustainably prosper while taking into account population growth and competing resources, cities will have to become smarter. This means that they will be increasingly reliant on IoT and digital systems to effectively meet citizen demand, reduce energy and other resource costs, as well as bridge the gap between citizens and governments.

A Snapshot of the IoT Ecosystem

There are hundreds of firms worldwide developing technologies and solutions to meet the needs of smart cities. For instance, dozens of companies are working to provide more efficient lighting and traffic planning to help pedestrians and drivers by computerizing those systems.

Enevo is an interesting IoT solution that is looking to turn waste collection into an internet and data-based process. It optimizes the logistics of collecting waste from trash containers.

Urban homes can directly benefit from IoT solutions that improve the connectivity of physical devices, making the whole more efficient than the sum of its parts. For instance, there are products that activate security alarms from a distance.  Nest is a famous example of a home heating system that turns itself off at certain times in order to use less energy.

Singaporean-Australian IoT company Xped has introduced a smartphone-enabled IoT solution called ARDC that can be applied to physical home devices. Using an app on their smartphone, consumers can tap a chosen device and immediately control and operate it. The phone automatically discovers connected devices, finds a wireless network, and displays it on the user's interface. The company is currently in the process of listing on the Australian Securities Exchange.

Other IoT startups and established household names also work to provide solutions for cities both on macro and micro-level. Phillips, for instance, launched Lumimotion, a sensor-based lighting systems that is activated based on data collected from street activity.

The Path to IoT Success

Based on my research into IoT companies, if founders want to achieve success in the realm of smart cities, they will will need to keep a few things in mind. It all comes down to ease of use.

1.     Seamless Onboarding Experience:

Devices will need to speak to each other so simply that connection must be an afterthought. Finding a new connected device should theoretically be as easy as tapping on a device that appears on a smartphone interface. Keeping such integrations as simple as possible will ease new users into the experience.

2.     Support for Multiple Devices:

IoT solutions should be optimized to function across different devices. Since people will have an array of them, it's important for solutions to work across different types of items for simplicity sake.

3.     User-friendly Systems:

Although we're talking about complex systems here, effective IoT tech should probably be managed by just one user-friendly control center.

Despite the hype, both established companies and emerging IoT startups must take into account security measures when looking to market their products in urban communities. Some experts are still skeptical of IoT because of this issue, saying a system so complex may be more trouble than it's worth. It will be up to IoT providers to convince users, both citizens and city governments, that their solutions are not only exciting, but also safe enough to satisfy user concerns about data privacy.

Disruptive IoT technologies have the power to be applied to seemingly unlimited devices and appliances. This will also have a huge impact on cities, especially given the presence of outdated systems that are in need of a major makeover.

Moreover, to truly meet the demands of a growing urban population competing for limited city resources, IoT has a huge role to play in transforming the way people experience urban living, from their homes, to the office, to everywhere in between. It will be interesting to see how this technology evolves to provide sustainable answers to pressing urban issues.

Published on: Dec 14, 2015