The Future Is Now for Smart Cities

Municipalities across Europe are tapping into RFID and related technologies to deliver new and enhanced services.
By John Edwards

Some smart applications are designed to help boost local economies. Nice, on the French Riviera, is considered a pioneer in smart cities. The city recently deployed an NFC service to help tourists and other visitors to its modern art museum and other cultural sites learn more about the objects they're looking at. "The app allows access to an audio guide that gives information about the painter and his work," says Florence Barale, the Nice municipal councilor in charge of innovation. "Moreover, lots of historical monuments are equipped with NFC technology to help the tourists to discover the treasures of Nice."

Planning and Funding
Identifying potential applications is the easy, no-pain part of the smart-city development process. The headaches begin when it comes time to plan and fund real-world projects. An important first step is winning the support of the local citizens and businesses that will be using—and, in many cases, funding—the smart-city projects.

"You have to get some type of support and buy-in from the citizenry and also from the retailers, the enterprises and the government entities that provide services to citizens to embrace this concept... and to allocate funds toward it," Liard says.

The SmartSantander project was paid for by a €9 million ($11.8 million) European Union grant that Muñoz supervises. Muñoz notes that winning local support was relatively easy, since a smart city stimulates a productive model based on knowledge and innovation. Furthermore, it creates new services that are customized to residents' needs, an attribute that tends to build community enthusiasm and approval. Local businesses also like the technology because parking automation makes it easier for people to shop at stores, and traffic-management services help delivery trucks, taxis and other types of commercial vehicles move around the city faster and more efficiently. "Before, the services were quite flat, with no special directions for specific groups of citizens," Muñoz says. "Now, we can bind the technology to citizens and serve users according to their profiles."

Potential smart-city adopters need to promote services, not technologies, Bevan says. "It's not just about instrumenting your city and somehow grinding all the data that comes from millions of sensors throughout the domain in order to change behavior or develop infrastructure that will bring solutions," he observes. "It's more about using technology as tools that citizens can access, as well as governments and organizations."

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