As the world becomes increasingly more urban, cities everywhere must address the conflict between growth and limited resources. According to UN-Habitat, cities consume about 75% of the world's primary energy and emit between 50% and 60% of all greenhouse gases.
So, how can cities balance rapid urban growth with very limited resources? The answer lies, at least partially, in advanced technologies such as 5G, cloud, AI, blockchain, and intelligent sensing. This new tech is opening up new possibilities for cities, which are in turn ideal for applying and incubating these technologies on a large scale.
New digital infrastructure is the engine of digital cities
To continue digitizing cities, we first need a solid digital infrastructure, which will serve as their foundation. This infrastructure will consist of four layers.
• Bottom layer:An intelligent sensing system that can accurately sense dynamic situations and the heartbeat of the city in real time.
• Layer 2:This layer enables intelligent connectivity. High-speed wired and wireless connections will connect the city, creating an organic whole.
• Layer 3: The third layer is an intelligent hub, which will serve as the city's "brain" and decision-making system. This layer aggregates massive amounts of data and enables city-wide data sharing. This allows AI systems to deliver the maximum possible value, making granular, data-driven, and highly automated city governance a reality.
• Top layer: A comprehensive ecosystem of smart applications will be built on top of the digital infrastructure, covering the "last mile" of service delivery, and creating infinite possibilities for smart urban growth.
These four layers will interconnect and support each other, ultimately producing a smart city that embodies the new goal of ubiquitous intelligence.
Snapshot from the future: Nanosensors track the city's pulse
MIT Technology Review listed Sensing City as one of the 10 Breakthrough Technologies in 2018. Instead of today's restricted sensing systems, cities of the future will feature a comprehensive sensing network. Sensors across a city will be connected using a range of different transmission systems. Analytics will use the massive flows of comprehensive data generated by these systems to accurately understand everything that's going on in a city.
For example, there will be sensors to detect hazardous, toxic, and explosive gases in the air, making cities safer. These will be used by factories and customs inspection. The surfaces of these sensors will use a nano-coating, improving their sensitivity and performance when a sensor comes in contact with a gas.
Another example is sound recognition. Nanocrack-based acoustic sensors can recognize specific sound frequencies. They can be placed on the surface of a violin and accurately record every note of a tune. They then "translate" the tune and send the data to a connected device, which can electronically recreate the same tune.
Snapshot from the future: All-optical, 10 gigabit cities
The newest generation of connectivity technologies, such as 5G, F5G, and gigabit Wi-Fi, is enabling high-speed networks with universal coverage in urban spaces. We believe that all-optical infrastructure will drive leapfrog improvements in the communications networks of future cities in terms of capacity, bandwidth, and user experience.
• Uplink and downlink rates will reach 10 Gbit/s.
• Latency will be reduced to microseconds.
• The number of connections will see a 100-fold increase.
Snapshot from the future: Intelligent hubs relieve people of urban management
AI will play an increasingly important role during the digital transformation of cities. As part of this transformation, technological advances are driving important changes in the approach to city governance. For example, there is a shift from reactive to proactive services, from broad-brush to granular regulation, and from post-hoc to real-time response or even incident prediction and prevention.
Huawei believes that as the goals of city governance evolve, cities will need powerful, intelligent hubs. These hubs will help us overcome technological challenges, aggregating data and supporting applications. They will also have the capacity to iterate and improve themselves. These hubs will aggregate massive amounts of data from every corner of a city and then mine it for insights to support better city governance. This will benefit every industry, significantly improving the efficiency of city governance and user experience.
In Toyota's plan for the city of the future, each house, building, and vehicle will be equipped with sensors. Data from these sensors will then be aggregated into a city's data operating system, through which people, buildings, and vehicles will all be connected. Once the data is aggregated to the intelligent hub, AI will analyze people's surroundings. It can then, for example, separate pedestrians and drivers, guaranteeing road safety. In addition to new technologies like indoor robots, citizens will use AI to monitor their health from the comfort of their home. Wearable medical sensors for home use will transfer data to the data operating system, which will provide instructions for healthcare.
Snapshot from the future: Smart ecosystems enable universal smart services
In the new digital urban infrastructure model, an innovative ecosystem that links new infrastructure and digital innovation will be key for smarter cities. This ecosystem will serve industries, enabling them to prosper and tap into the value of new urban infrastructure.
In China, Huawei has partnered with Guangming Science Zone in Shenzhen to build a green, all-optical, smart demo zone. We aim to accelerate business innovation in key industries such as smart manufacturing, life sciences, and all-optical networks. Guangming District will be China's first life science and intelligent manufacturing innovation center. It is built upon the EIHealth platform for life sciences and FusionPlant service platform for intelligent manufacturing. The innovative district promotes intelligent transformation across these two industries.
Smart government services make cities more human
China and many other countries around the world are gradually re-designing their government services to truly serve their people. To do so, they draw on the evolving new technologies such as cloud, AI, and blockchain.
Snapshot from the future: Proactive and precise government services
Today, Chinese citizens in most provinces don't need to visit government offices to access public services. Instead, they can use their smartphones. We expect that the digitalization process for government services will continue to evolve over the next decade. What will this look like?
1. Cities will widely adopt digital IDs, including regular ID cards, drivers' licenses, social security cards, and bank cards. It is estimated that the total addressable market for global electronic identity authentication services will be worth US$18 billion by 2027.
2. Digital credit will underpin and restructure many public service processes and customer experiences. It will be one of the founding technologies for digital government. Most citizens are already familiar with electronic library cards, social security cards, and car rental services that require a credit rating. As these services continue to improve, they will deliver a better experience to millions of citizens.
3. Universal access to one-stop, e-government services will soon be a reality. In the future, citizens will be able to remotely access all government services. It's even possible that public service offices will cease to exist.
Let's look at smart care for the elderly as an example. Communities in Shanghai have installed smart water meters for elderly people who live alone and agree to the installation. If the total water used within a 12-hour period falls below 0.01 cubic meters, the meter will send an alarm to the central network and community workers. These workers will then visit the elderly person in question to check whether everything is normal. This is but one example of how technology can humanize public services and care for people.
Snapshot from the future: Data sharing through blockchain
Blockchain technology can be fully integrated with emerging information technologies such as cloud computing, big data, and AI. It solves the questions around trust in data transmission, sharing, and use that arise in digital cities. Blockchains are maintained by multiple parties and use a range of cryptographic technologies to ensure secure transmission and access. They also use hash pointers to prevent data tampering, making them a secure and trustworthy medium for data sharing. In a complex service environment such as digital government services, blockchain could be used to establish trust among government departments and dramatically increase the efficiency of data sharing.
Dubai is one of the world's fastest adopters of digitalization. The city is applying some of the most innovative ideas to real-world scenarios, aiming to become a smart metropolis powered by blockchain. Within its smart city program, one pilot initiative is garnering much public attention. Dubai plans to use blockchain to track, transport, and deliver the import and export of goods. This system will be integrated into the city's foreign trade administration, creating a secure and transparent platform. This blockchain-powered system will enable faster document processing, saving US$1.5 billion and 25.1 million working hours.
Intelligent environmental protection for livable cities
How can we use digital and intelligent technologies to protect the environment and make cities more livable for every resident?
Snapshot from the future: Automatic waste helps cities reach zero waste
Many cities around the world have launched zero-waste initiatives. In future cities, we envision that AI will help throughout the entire waste management process, from collection and transportation to sorting and processing. Essentially, waste management will be automated and intelligent. Intelligent waste recycling bins, driverless garbage trucks, automated waste sorting robots, automated garbage recycling devices, and other innovative applications will emerge. These initiatives will make zero-waste cities a reality.
The Songdo Smart City Hub in South Korea has introduced an automated waste disposal system, which uses negative pressure to suck domestic waste into a waste processing center through underground pipes. In Malaysia, a company has developed a waste disposal system that quickly transports municipal or domestic solid waste through underground pipes from waste chutes and outdoor loading stations into sealed containers located up to 2.5 km away. Once the containers are full, a flatbed arm roll truck comes to collect them. This speeds up waste management and reduces the need for staffing.
Snapshot from the future: Optical detection makes water sources safer
In the future, cities will need to focus on water cycle management, from intake and use to discharge. A holistic, AI-managed system will help manage water resources, while cities rebuild their water facilities. Such a system will be able to maximize the use of urban water resources by refining every stage of water intake, use, and discharge, using forecasts for weather and water consumption. This process will also involve the precise, scheduled use of water resources, reducing the total energy consumed.
Water quality monitoring will become another key concern, especially when it comes to treating industrial wastewater. New spectral detection technology can use sensors to supervise and collect water quality data. Then, systems can use in-depth data mining and analysis to enable 24/7, real-time, automated, intelligent water quality monitoring. This will lead to faster warnings in case of accidents causing water pollution.
Spectral technology can also use AI and other means to dig the hidden relationship between water quality parameters and treatment processes. This will help cities make data-driven decisions to upgrade urban wastewater treatment processes, facilitating source prevention and control, process supervision, and comprehensive management.
Snapshot from the future: Real-time air quality monitoring with AI
The World Health Organization reports that nearly 90% of cities worldwide fail to meet its air quality standards. That's why, most cities will soon opt to deploy cost-effective and reliable air quality sensors and build a monitoring network. This way, they can monitor air quality and weather across the entire city and take targeted measures to improve air quality and the urban environment.
In the future, we can consider integrating sensors with AI. Supported by machine learning, sensors will be trained to detect their surroundings and make preliminary judgments regarding potential changes. This intelligent upgrade will help of cities automatically sense environmental changes in real time.
Over the next decade, we will see the quick roll out of several ICTs, like 5G, optical networks, AI, cloud, and blockchain. As part of this evolution, cities will shift toward 10 gigabit connectivity. Huawei predicts that by 2030, 40% of companies and 23% of homes worldwide will have access to 10 gigabit Wi-Fi networks.
These ICTs will help up make better use of limited resources, manage our cities more efficiently, and improve citizens' quality of life. We believe that ICTs will bring cities closer to achieving their sustainable development goals, making them more human and livable.
(This article is excerpted from Huawei's Intelligent World 2030)