The advancement of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), particularly the Internet and the way citizens connect to it, has resulted in the evolution of the Smart Cities concept. Related technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and Analytics and Cloud Computing too, have played a catalytic role in this evolution (maybe even a revolution!). But why do citizens need smart cities? How are these smart cities different from most modern cities of the world? Through this post, we will take a deep dive to understand the Why, What and How of the Smart City concept.
Lets start with the Why. One of the most important challenges that governments face today, is Urbanization. According to a UN study, by 2050, 66% of the worlds population will live in urban areas. The number of mega-cities, with population greater than 10 million, is increasing rapidly. Rapid population growth, industrialization and climate changes bring another major challenge – environmental degradation. In response, authorities will have to put in place modern and sustainable infrastructure for power, waste, water supply, and essential utilities management. Seamless mobility, always-on connectivity between physical and digital worlds, modern and efficient infrastructure, highly efficient transport systems, will no longer be good to have features, but very soon they will emerge as basic necessities. Modern cities will need to be smart, safe and sustainable well equipped to meet the demands of their digitally oriented, smart and demanding citizens of future Smart Cities.
In the absence of one universally accepted definition of a Smart City, lets work with the one articulated by the ITU-T Focus Group in October 2015. According to ITU-T, A smart sustainable city is an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects.
As is clear from this definition, a Smart City employs several ICT components that act as enablers. For Quality Assurance and Testing professionals watching the Smart City phenomena unfold globally, I am discussing briefly the ICT components and why are they enablers of Smart City implementations.
Smart Things: Connected ecosystem of consumer devices such as smart phones, health monitoring sensors, embedded systems, multipurpose sensors and actuators collect data in real time. These devices are connected to each other, through an underlying IoT based architecture. Together, they represent the web of smart things popularly known as the Internet of Things. The devices collect and transmit real-time data, which is then processed, to generate intelligent information and insights.
Smart Places to Connect Smart Things: The smart things must be connected across the smart city, to build a strong integrated network of ‘Always On and Everywhere Connected devices. Modern connectivity options include fixed and mobile broadband, WiFi technologies, IoT protocols like EPC, MQTT, and OMA-DM. As the connectivity options evolve, they bring in greater and efficient, device connectivity features for the smart things.
Smart Data Processing Techniques: Smart things collect large volumes of data that cannot be processed using traditional data processing systems and techniques. This data volume must be managed with improved Big Data based processing systems, and smart analytics models, to generate meaningful analysis and insights. New evolving technology facilitates rapid data ingestions, fast extractions, improved processing, scalable storage, and efficient analysis of large volume data. One such evolving technique is building the analytics database using Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) technology. GPU accelerated computing provides blazing speed, while reducing CPU load. Artificial intelligence (AI) too, has a role to play. AI based machine learning helps build intelligent learning models that can unearth hidden insights from intelligent data.
IoT Framework: Simply put, the smart, connected IoT ecosystem forms the core of the ICT framework for smart cities. IoT infrastructure includes identifiable and connected devices like sensors, RFID tags and fitness bands. The devices communicate with each other through IP protocols and gateways. Network infrastructure the routers, gateways and other intermediate systems that connect the smart things to the IoT cloud, is the critical success factor of the IoT ecosystem. The large volume data generated by the things can be managed using scalable storage on the cloud. Concepts like Edge Computing and Ubiquitous Networks further increase the efficiencies of IoT implementation.
While modern technology provides smart options, it also poses unprecedented challenges that must be addressed. There is an absence of global scalability approaches for an IoT framework, lack of privacy, data security and global ICT governance standards. Quality Assurance (QA) teams clearly, have an enhanced role and responsibility beyond executing test cases and validating functionality. They must work as part of the overall IoT ecosystem, and as an important stakeholder of the smart city ecosystem, QA too must be smarter.
It is quite evident that Smart cities need smarter QA that can assure smartness by outsmarting the security, privacy and scalability challenges. In my next post, we will explore this in greater detail.