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How soon could you live in a smart city?

Smart cities are tracking your every move to react. Yours could be next

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LAS VEGAS (Circa) - How soon could you live in a smart city? The kind where autonomous cars drive on 5G-powered streets and skyscrapers are self-sufficient thanks to artificial intelligence.

Well, those cities are already in the works.

Global spending on smart cities is projected to reach $34 billion by 2020, according to research by the Consumer Technology Association and UPS. In 2016, there were 235 active smart city projects across the globe in places like Helsinki, Copenhagen, Barcelona and Seoul. By 2025, their research predicts there will be nearly 90 fully-fledged smart cities standing and operating around the world. These cities, as CTA and UPS explain it, will be high-tech, inter-connected spaces that enable them to be more efficient, intuitive and sustainable.

In the U.S., the Department of Transportation launched a Smart City Challenge in 2015 to get cities thinking about how they could integrate data-centric initiatives to improve infrastructure. Seventy-seven cities submitted bids, from Portland and Austin to Kansas City, Columbus and Pittsburgh. In March, the first Congressional Smart Cities Caucus was formed.

Given the vast benefits of intelligent cities offer, momentum is only building around making innovative metropolises.

Putting smart city plans in place

It’s not just urban planners that are thinking smart; hundreds of companies are dreaming up ways that they can design for our future cities.

"An important element of a living street is that it responds to the situations around it, and it changes to adapt," Marcy Klevorn, president of mobility at Ford Motor Co., told Circa at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. "And that's what makes it living."

While you won’t see flying cars just yet, public-private partnerships are sprouting up across the globe.

AT&T is leveraging the Internet of Things to monitor the safety of our roads. Ericsson is testing smart traffic signals in Dallas. Verizon is trying out high-speed service 5G in several cities including Miami. And city planners are investing in self-driving public transit options in Las Vegas, as well as solar-powered information boards. In fact, Las Vegas has invested more than $500 million into its smart infrastructure efforts.

Meanwhile, Ford announced at CES a transportation mobility cloud, which is an open source system, where cities and companies can collaborate on things like making parking more efficient – so, as Ford puts it, streets come alive.

"We want everyone to participate on this cloud platform," Klevorn said. "These aren't problems that one provider or one company is going to solve on their own."

Ford’s vision is cars, bike-shares, ride-hailing networks and traffic lights all communicating with each other, and adapting to your needs.

French startup, Velco, for instance, built a connected handlebar – you control it through your smartphone and it can be installed on any bike.

"What we want to do is to have a mobility that is smarter, more personalized," Johnny Smith, co-founder and CMO of Velco, said. "We want to help individuals and business to cooperate and to be in the same city, as we are so many now in our cities, we need to have this kind of intelligence."

Smart lights tell you where to turn, and the smartphone integration lets you track your bike’s whereabouts.

It also allows Velco to collect and compile data for urban planners to improve, say, bike lanes.

There are real barriers...

Developing smart cities isn't all smooth sailing, as Atlanta now knows: In March, its city government was hacked and held hostage for more than a week. While city leaders are aware cyberattacks are likely as everything from traffic lights to water systems become connected, cybersecurity experts warn ransomware attacks like the one that hit Atlanta could become more common – and more crippling.

The solution isn't simple, but a cyber expert who spoke with CityLab said a good place to start is to "actively invest in security; it's not something you do once and it's safe."

To that end, in Oregon, the state's governor launched "Cyber Oregon" to raise awareness around cyber security issues. And New York City just this month appointed its first Chief Privacy Officer to improve data sharing and mining processes.

With privacy and security issues in mind, It’s not just transit that’s getting smart.

But the benefits are also very real

"A smart building is a building that provides operational continuity," Site 1001 Founder and CIO Eric Hall told Circa.

Cities are leaning on technology and the private sector to improve infrastructure, energy consumption, and overall quality of life for residents. Deloitte defines a smart city as one that utilizes data and tech to help manage everything from electricity usage to wastewater systems. This would not only make the city more efficient, Deloitte explains it would also make urban areas more cost effective.

A next-level smart city goes beyond that – it’s one where everything is in constant conversation, from grid sensors and wearable gadgets to retail stores, and all that data allows for better decision making. For example, Site 1001’s AI building solution pings real-time information to property managers that lets them anticipate problems – like water leaks – and respond more quickly.

"Our idea is to collect that information, share it with the buildings around us, and then collectively make decisions about energy consumption, municipal consumption," Hall said. "And that's how our smart cities starts to interact."

Imagine: Real-time crowdsourcing of crime details; shorter response times in emergency situations; smooth traffic flow – on roads and sidewalks; multi-purpose green spaces and sensors that monitor air quality; classrooms powered by VR; and the simple things, like knowing the specific brand of bubble water you buy is in stock at the store… before you make the trek.

When a city is smart enough to intuit that you need to go from one place to another, that "you need to stop for coffee and pick up a gift, and it's raining and you want your journey to take into account all those factors, and the streets accommodate you to do that," Ford's Klevorn said, "that's the dream."

See more Circa stories:
Smart mirrors could change how you shop for beauty products
Are there random, dockless bikes in your city? They could be the key to an easier commute.
Here's how Ford, a 100-year-old car company, is paving the way for autonomous driving

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