Intelligent, Connected, and Mobile – Scenarios for Smart, Sustainable, Human Cities
Published on September 23, 2019
Rohit Talwar – Futurist Speaker
By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, and Maria Romero
How might technological advances in data management, artificial intelligence, and energy help shape the future of cities?
A vision of the “city of the future” is often presented as a compelling symbol of the direction in which society could progress. Whilst visions differ, the common element is the notion that in the future, Earth’s most concentrated populations will occupy city environments where a digital blanket of sensors, devices, and cloud-connected data are brought together to enhance the living experience for all. Smart concepts encompass a range of key elements of what enable effective city ecosystems—from traffic control and environmental protection, to management of energy, sanitation, healthcare, security, and buildings.
Scenarios are a helpful tool to envision how human city visions might take shape over the next 10 to 15 years. Here we explore three 2030 scenarios showing how data, artificial intelligence (AI), and clean energy might deliver interconnected and seamless mobility in healthy, clean, smart, and livable cities.
In 2030, Transport for London (TfL) runs Greater London’s multi-modal transport network using a fully integrated AI-based Travel and Transport Management System (TTMS). Vast amounts of data are processed using human expertise, AI-based transport infrastructure planning and traffic management algorithms, and predictive analysis—drawing on sensors in roads, pavements, and public transport access points. These are supplemented by video interpretation from 60,000 closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras, which re-established London as the world’s most watched city, surpassing Beijing. Traffic and pedestrian flows have grown exponentially, transport’s environmental impacts have declined dramatically, and globally in 2030, London is ranked first on mobility.
A single control center automatically manages and matches services to demand—combining autonomous buses, surface and subway trains, and road and rail signaling. Live predictive analytics allow greater use of road and track space. Autonomous boats ply their trade on the Thames from Putney in the west to Woolwich Royal Arsenal in the east. An automated fail-safe mode restricts public access to capacity-sensitive areas like underground stations and riverboat piers.
Manual drive cars of all fuel types are still visible but only autonomous electrically powered vehicles are permitted in the city center Congestion Charge Area—a toll fee is automatically charged against the vehicle’s account information held in a blockchain-based payment system. In the late 2010s, traffic controllers still manually changed timings at three quarters of London’s traffic signals to reduce queues; now, the process is automated. A constant flow of data between autonomous vehicles (their current location, destination, purpose of the journey) and the central system is used to re-route traffic around congested areas. The system also gives priority to public transport and emergency services. The system’s associated app also provides navigational information to pedestrians’ personal digital assistants.
Embedded road sensors monitor surface and sub-surface conditions. Traffic types and flows are constantly tracked against the TTMS’ comprehensive historic road status database, which drives a program of proactive maintenance. This reduces requirements for lengthier and more extensive subsequent repairs. It also minimizes traffic disruption by accurately re-routing transport resources during repairs, maintenance, and emergency situations, and predicts the implications of any such situations.
For the first time since the horse and cart, London is (for the most part) moving freely again thanks to its fully integrated TTMS. Not only is London moving, but other major cities around the world are seeking London’s expertise, creating unexpected revenues for TfL.
It’s New Year’s Eve 2029 and several hundred thousand people gather in Times Square to see in 2030. The all-encompassing role of smart, autonomous, self-managing vehicles is in full evidence across the city. As of tomorrow, only autonomous vehicles will be allowed on the streets except in a few designated zones and “drivers’ parks” where enthusiasts will be able to take the controls.
Vehicle ownership is almost obsolete as most new vehicles are effectively self-owning. These independent taxis earn a fare for each ride and share revenues with those who manufacture, service, and refuel them. The cars work in self-managing, self-insuring networks, covering each other in the event of increasingly rare incidents. Autonomous technology grows ever smarter and accidents only tend to arise when human-driven vehicles are in collision with autonomous cars.
Revelers at the NYE celebrations can rest assured that a smartcab or personal drone will reach them within five minutes. Autonomous ambulances patrol the city with in-vehicle robots providing immediate first aid and carrying out more complex tasks under the guidance of remote doctors observing via video. Personal drones are used to extract the injured parties from their location and transport them to the ambulance. Autonomous food trucks serve revelers in public areas with drones delivering the food to the individual wherever they stand without having to navigate through the crowd. Single user “Dronejohns” or “Droneloos” can also be summoned on demand—dropping into the midst of the crowd to enable those caught short to relieve themselves in privacy.
Autonomous vehicles have changed city life, cutting congestion, reducing pollution, providing services on demand, and freeing up car parking for new uses and pop-up activities.
Martina and her friends have a meeting at the library after school. Even in 2030, homework is still an everyday occurrence here in Paris. Taking a driverless car from school to the library—a standard transportation option for schoolchildren—the girls walk in through the grand entranceway of the library. The historic library building is retrofitted with the smart technologies of 2030 without sacrificing the charm of the 1970’s façade. Old buildings are precious in the city—the cost to upgrade them is offset by the carbon neutrality of new transportation solutions. The building is old, net zero, and smart: When someone is dropped off at the entrance, it lets the autonomous cars know which library patrons are ready to leave, or sends the car to another passenger nearby.
As the girls complete their work, they are earning social credits that will provide more free rides in the future; doing homework and other good deeds are a currency children use to get around town. Mobility had become a service as basic as electricity and internet access—and completely clean, safe, and renewable. Electric transportation options are around every corner in the form of public mass transport (self-driving buses and trains), drone taxis, and self-driving electric cars.
The scaling of apps and technology to intuitively offer “Mobility as a Service” (MaaS) across the city mean private cars and driving have become obsolete. Smart technologies are so advanced that users rarely need to request rides; they are predictively hailed by internet-connected things such as their watch, phone, home, or desk.
From the library, the autonomous car drives the girls to their various homes, lessons, or practices. The parents’ digital assistants communicate with the city’s main brain to agree different drop off locations for their children, ensuring no wasted trips. The smart city offers a lot for families: Parents are no longer caught in gridlock on long commutes to the suburbs since efficient city planning allows large numbers of residents to live in urban places comfortably and abundantly.
Planning for the Future of Cities
The smart city 2030 scenarios envisioned here are vibrant, high-tech places with transportation strategies that ensure a high quality of life. In this future, data is wealth, and physical infrastructure is a tool to extract benefits for the greater good.
The smart city movement has the potential to transform the organization of people and physical objects in a way that transcends urban development as we know it. The shift to smart infrastructure is not simply fashionable or aspirational; in many ways, it appears to be a critical enabler of the future sustainability of cities. It can be argued that the future of human life on the planet rests on a smooth transition to cities that are more efficient, less wasteful, and more conscious of the impacts of the individual upon the greater good.
To achieve this vision, society must harness the impressive and increasing potential of the collective data drawn from large groups of people living together in cities. Who owns the data? Who decides how it is to be used? Where does the greater good overshadow individual free will, and vice versa? These are some questions that city planners and residents will need to build more dialogue around in order to ensure that future cities are intentionally wise and human, and not just smart.
- How might social and family dynamics change as a result of these technological advances in the city?
- How might government, businesses, and society address the emerging issues of data privacy and security?
- How can we ensure genuine citizen engagement in envisioning smart cities and realizing the full benefits when they are in operation?