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Smart cities, internet of things

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The use of the phrase—Internet Of Things, or IOT—is becoming more common daily. With the increasing coverage of the internet across the world on a daily basis, the widespread use of smartphones and the design and manufacture of smaller smartchips, IOT will revolutionise the way we live, work and communicate.

Very simply IOT is defined as the inter-networking of intelligent devices embedded in buildings, vehicles and even humans. The devices are able to collect and exchange data via networks, mobile communications or the internet—and are also able to be remotely sensed or controlled.

IOT nowadays is able to go beyond ‘machine to machine” connectivity and can and will also include microchips in animals and even humans, enabling the tracing of lost animals for example, or the remote health monitoring of patients with heart problems. This is just the tip of the iceberg, Research predicts that the number of IOT devices will reach at least 38.5 billion by the year 2020. Compare that to the current estimates of the population of the world—7.5 billion people in 2017.

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It is really hard to get my mind around this development—the thought there are little intelligent devices everywhere—that are collecting data about everything—the weather, traffic, the movement of people, even the phone usage of you and I, and transmitting this data somewhere. In the near future, would it be feasible that – rather than the tedious exercise currently being carried out nationally on our ID card initiative—children will be implanted with a chip at birth?

A bit scary? Well, did you know that this practice is currently widespread with domestic pets and high value farm animals all over the world? Paranoia aside, some extremely clever ideas based on the IOT are being applied in cities throughout the world aimed at improving the lives and efficiency of citizens and save money. These initiatives lead to the label of “smart city” and our city officials tasked with the responsibilities for improving efficiencies and quality of life of the rates payers and inhabitants, would do well to look at what is happening worldwide and seek to adopt and implement successful initiatives. It is predicted that more than 60% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.So, what is a “smart city”?

Anil Menon, Cisco’s deputy chief globalization officer, says, “A smart city is a city that uses digital technologies or information and communication technologies—connected via an intelligent network—to address challenges within city communities and across vertical industries. These challenges may include parking, traffic, transportation, street lighting, water and waste management, safety and security, even the delivery of education and healthcare. Some examples of smart city innovations include sensors in the street being accessed by a smartphone application to notify drivers of vacant parking spaces or garages.

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Smart LEDs are being used in streetlights and combined with HD cameras allow the collection of various data to enable amongst other things, traffic accidents, jam reductions and crime prevention. In San Antonio, connecting traffic lights has led to the savings of hundreds of millions of dollars, in energy consumption and lost time. In Chicago, this technology is used to improve safety by monitoring large gatherings and plan appropriate responses to overcrowding and potential trouble spots.

This approach is also used to connect and monitor utilities such as water, sewage and power—leading to reduced costs and more efficient management of essential supplies. Each city is different with different needs. The question to ask, is will Malawian cities benefit from lower connectivity costs—which are reflected globally—and harvest the technological benefits of Big Data and the IOT? Looking at the current sad condition of our cities and infrastructure, and our prohibitively high internet costs—it seems impossible to imagine.

But it is not a leap of faith. As with all things, it requires listening legislators with a far sighted and open approach—and more importantly—a full commitment to carrying out their social responsibilities to the best of their ability. I am seeing more and more people of this caliber here, and this is heartening for all our futures.

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