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Horizons 2050: Planning NZ's Future Smart Cities

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With more and more people leaving rural areas and migrating to the city, the demand on resources in our urban spaces is becoming increasingly stretched.

By 2050, it is estimated that 40% of the NZ population will live in Auckland, and other major cities around the country will likewise experience significant population growth.

It is a pattern playing out all over the world, and one that has led to the rise of the so-called ‘smart city’; a concept that link’s traditional infrastructure and services with the very latest in 21st-century technology.

So, what will these cities look like? 

The Internet of Things (IoT)

Central to the building of smart cities is the Internet of Things. IoT devices and sensors will turn ordinary objects such as rubbish bins and signposts into interconnected data-gathering machines, logging our every move and providing analytics to local authorities. That information can, in turn, be used to better utilise available assets, increase energy efficiency, reduce congestion and enhance the quality of life.

NZ telecom company Spark has already developed a widespread network across Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, among others, that lets local businesses and councils connect to various objects around the city, such as vehicles, car parks and machinery. Sensors relay real-time information about the status of things like the quality of the water in rivers or even down to how full a public bin is.

The relevant bodies will also be able to adopt smart lighting technology, giving them the ability to control a city’s streetlights; creating bespoke profiles, monitoring maintenance and turning them on and off as required – reducing carbon emissions and keeping streets safer for citizens.

In addition, intelligent traffic lights will be able to adapt their sequencing to improve transport flow – tech already in use in California and Singapore can predict future traffic patterns with 85% accuracy. By connecting the network of lights, they will be able to stream data between millions of devices to improve services in the city, such as air quality and parking.

Energy Efficiency

New Zealand is already a global leader in the renewable energy sector, with more than 80% of its power mix coming from environmentally sustainable systems. The rise of the smart city is an opportunity to develop further energy efficient solutions to the challenges of urban living.

By 2050, smart buildings will produce their own power needs, with solar windows or even photovoltaic exterior paint. Sensors will monitor energy usage and environmental factors, using the information to ensure they are running at optimum efficiency.

NZ has also embraced electric vehicles at an impressive rate, and with the government’s support for a new Electric Vehicle Program and a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, the uptake is likely to increase. Although the technology is still relatively young, the breakthrough creation of a graphene supercapacitor by a team at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), essentially a battery that charges around 1,000 times faster than normal, means it could soon be entering a golden age where filling up an electric car can be done quicker than a petrol one.

Public transport will also be very different. Uber is going to be trialling fly-on-demand taxis in Dallas and Denver by 2020, with a look to roll out globally in the subsequent decade. The timetabled buses we have today could well become a thing of the past.

And perhaps most exciting of all, we could soon see drones delivering takeaways.

For the first time in history, more than half of the planet’s population lives in cities, a figure expected to rise to 70% by 2050. Creating the most energy efficient and economically viable urban environments is vital and is driving the exponential growth of the smart city. The huge advances in fields such as AI, IoT and autonomous vehicles are bringing the world’s cities into the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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