Increasing Productivity With Smart City Technologies

June 27, 2018

Productivity tools exist everywhere. Smartphone productivity apps for writing, email, to do list management, and other tasks come at as little as a dollar a piece, and many are free to download and use. There’s an entire industry around individual productivity; “life hack” websites and self-help blogs serve content focused on giving readers a better grasp on the quickening pace of their lives.

Similarly, team productivity gets a lot of attention for businesses, schools, nonprofits, and other institutions. Enterprise solutions exist for all kinds of technologies used within an institution, from file sharing and messaging to payroll management. Industry-specific technologies like development or research tools also enable institutions in different markets to drive efficiency and productivity.

Many individuals use productivity apps with specific goals in mind, from improving well-being to career and professional advancement. Institutions use business solutions to drive profits and achieve institutional goals.

But when the scope gets bigger, things get much more complicated. Groups of people and corporations that exist together do not always share obvious, unifying goals. Commingled groups may be complex and have disparate goals, even as they are unified by a shared locational sense of community. Adversarial relationships may even exist between groups, such as business competitors. All of this makes for a complicated picture of how the community operates together and how technologies can help them function better.

This is where the idea of the “smart city” is helpful. Smart city technologies enable cities, municipalities and other ecosystems of diverse groups and interests to operate in a way that is efficient and collectively benefits participants. Here are some technologies that put the “smart” in smart city, and what these technologies do to make cities more productive and enjoyable places to live.


Innovations in the healthcare sector stand to help citizens inside hospitals and emergency rooms through better instruments, data-informed medical practices, and other means. However, the true power of smart city technology lies in its ability to provide preventative medicine right to citizens’ homes, cars, and workplaces.

Weather health alerts

Familiar examples of smart city technologies in healthcare include mobile apps that provide real-time and predictive data on the UV index, pollution index, and other health-related measures. These metrics are all publicly accessible through weather services like Weather Underground.

Using this and other information intelligently (e.g. timely alerts presented to individuals known to have serious allergies or reactions to sunlight) can create positive health benefits for individuals and decrease the disease burden on the population as a whole. This creates cost savings on healthcare services for the city and local population.

Data-based public health interventions

With the right data and analytic systems, cities can identify demographic groups with elevated risk profiles for certain public health concerns and target interventions more precisely toward these populations.

For example, in areas with high infant mortality, cities can use public and medical data to identify expectant and new mothers. Identifying these individuals allows the municipality to target educational campaigns about pre- and post-natal care, improving health outcomes for these mothers and their babies.

Similarly, proper data collection can help cities identify areas where stagnant water collects because of a gap in rainfall absorption systems, or areas where public sanitation systems are required.

Remote patient monitoring

Lifestyle wearables such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit provide wearers useful information about their personal health but can also be used to give healthcare providers useful health information. Monitoring vital signs, for example, can be used to ensure the health of post-surgery patients, and watching blood glucose levels can help treat or diagnose diabetes.

Medication adherence technologies can also be used to assist patients in taking medications on proper schedules and frequencies.

Public safety

Technologies that can assist public safety officials effectively do their jobs are of particular interest to cities for a few reasons.

First of all, crime and security are lightning rods for political activism. This can be seen from the concerns of many interest groups, from fears over gun proliferation to police brutality to prosecuting drug offenses. Although technology alone cannot fix public safety challenges, smart city technologies offer a means toward a solution.

Secondly, because local, state, and federal institutions jointly hold the responsibilities of ensuring public safety and executing the law, cities have a particular interest in adopting policies and technologies that help them better serve this role.

Real-time crime mapping

Calculating reports and insights on common locations of certain crimes, including

timescale and frequency analyses, are one way of better informing police and other officials as they serve and protect their communities. Such analysis is enabled by robust data collection practices like standardized and digitalized crime reporting and data processing tools and techniques, which are yet another technology smart cities can provide their police departments.

Crime mapping can help police not just infer where crime is likely to happen, but better understand existing crime patterns. Questions that can be asked and answered by this kind of technology and analysis include: why does crime happen here? What can be done to make the area safer? How can interventions be implemented to prevent potential crimes and protect likely victims?

Smart surveillance

Not only can police directly provide reports and information that can be mined for insights that increase public safety, but automatic data collection about crimes is possible as well. Smart surveillance systems can alert police to possible crimes as they are happening without the need for a 911 call.

One example of such a system are gunshot detection systems. These can be used to discern the location of firearm usage, along with assisting police in investigating gun-related crimes through sound analysis.

Other smart surveillance systems include facial recognition software, which uses artificial intelligence alongside data collection and analysis to visually identify individuals.

Smart surveillance technologies implicate many ethical questions regarding police and surveillance, which inevitably must be grappled with for any city wishing to implement these technologies.

Body cameras

Body cameras are another familiar technology that can be used in the context of smart cities to improve public wellbeing. Body cameras have proven to both effect more responsible policing behaviors and instill public confidence in police departments.

Police cameras provide better documentation of criminal activity for more informed decisions in the justice system and can help police better analyze criminal behavior for increased safety and awareness.

Crime forecasting

Effective crime reporting, data collection, analysis, and interpretation can all be used in tandem by police departments to better discern the risk of possible crimes, all with better precision than afforded by classical forensic methods.

Crime prediction might sound like science fiction, and in part it is; these systems do not predict individual crime events, but rather probabilities of criminal activities based on location and circumstances. Crime forecasting systems extrapolate from past data to create reports and documentation of high-risk areas for crime based on inputs like time of day, time of year, recent criminal activity in the area, and other metrics tied to events of criminal activity.

Mobility technologies

The last category of smart city technologies this article will cover is one of the fastest growing and widely familiar areas of development in smart city technology: transit systems. From ride sharing apps that you might use every day to futuristic smart parking lots, there are many possibilities in this area to help make travel in and around smart cities safer and faster.

Ridesharing programs

Many cities have seen the rise of apps like Uber and Lyft that provide ride hailing and ride sharing services, making travel in and around cities simpler for many. However, ridesharing programs expand beyond these existing services: bike-sharing programs have also been deployed to cities around the world, in the form of LimeBike, Ofo, and others. These provide users an easy way to find a nearby bike, unlock it for riding, and automatic fare charges per ride.

Ridesharing programs can also be used to match up commuters who have similar departures and destinations to create a more ecologically and economically sustainable model for daily transit of city-dwellers. These rideshare programs can dynamically respond to citizens’ travel needs and schedules, and potentially in the future provide autonomous driving as a safer and more efficient means of transportation.

Real-time bus scheduling

Similar to the dynamic rideshare programs previously mentioned, real-time bus scheduling also provides an opportunity for cities to be responsive to the transit needs of its citizens. Realtime bus schedulers can use information about citizens’ movement and commuting habits to predict and respond to transit demand. Such systems can also be deployed to give riders notifications and information about bus schedules so that they know what to expect from their travel schedules.

Smart parking systems

Some parking decks around the world already provide this technology to assist drivers quickly find parking in public lots. Rudimentary forms of these systems can track the inflow and outflow of traffic from parking garages, for example, and provide signals about the availability of parking in certain areas or floors of the parking deck.

More advanced parking systems can track demand for parking based on location data of citizens looking for parking, and dynamically provide notifications about prime parking areas based on users’ destinations and visit details. These systems might even afford smart city citizens automated valet parking to create time savings and increase public safety.

These examples of smart city technologies are far from comprehensive, but hopefully provide a basis of understanding the kinds of technologies that may be used in the cities of the future. Other areas of smart city technological development include economic development, energy, health and human service, telecommunications, waste management, and more.

According to a 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, a research group with interests in smart city technologies, smart cities are more than just the technologies that enable them. It’s about the people, too:

After a decade of trial and error, municipal leaders are realizing that smart-city strategies start with people, not technology. “Smartness” is not just about installing digital interfaces in traditional infrastructure or streamlining city operations. It is also about using technology and data purposefully to make better decisions and deliver a better quality of life.

Context is also important to the development of smart city technologies. For example, in the Canadian city of Calgary, flooding occurs annually but at unpredictable intervals and severity, so the city sought to use technology to mitigate the effects of this flooding. They developed a system for measuring the flow rates of local rivers and the capacities of the city’s water reservoirs and used these metrics to predict when potential flooding events would occur. They can now respond to these events by emptying reservoirs when high waters are expected and have effectively been able to prevent these annual floods without cutting off the city’s access to freshwater.

Smart city technologies are the systems that produce and amplify the benefits of cities. They are the productivity tools not of individuals or businesses, but whole municipalities. With this considerable scale comes considerable opportunities, and the modern advancement of fields such as urban planning, sociology, and technology have equipped community leaders to provide their communities tools for growth and advancement.

The smart city technologies explored here are only the start of the innovations that will enable the cities of tomorrow.

Teresa Tomas is from DO Supply, Inc., an industrial equipment supplier based in Cary, NC. She writes about robotics, machine learning, and the future of automation for industries.

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