However for Professor Marimuthu Palani, and his team in Electrical & Electronic Engineering at Melbourne University, smart cities are so much more than a concept.
With the work their department are doing, the ideas are starting to become a reality – and there has never been a more important time to make it happen.
As it stands, 85% of Australians currently live in the city, and while this number is a bit lower globally, more of the population will become urbanised.
This will give rise to phenomenal problems and poses a central challenge for Prof. Marimuthu -- how can we adapt our cities to make them as comfortable for citizens as we can?
Prof. Marimuthu suggests that a smart city is ICT linked into smart infrastructure, like a digital skin. Integration is key to the process and ideally a smart city must: think, include people and create action.
It’s not enough for a citizen to navigate through the city; a smart city should make citizens feel like they belong to the city in the deepest sense. Not only should the citizen be interpreting data given by the city, but the city should concurrently be taking citizen input and feeding it into separate systems in order to create maximum cohesion.
A wonderful example given was the work Melbourne University are doing with pollution monitoring. It is a immense worldwide problem, with 4.6 million people dying from it annually and the major cause of respiratory conditions, it needs to be tackled on several levels.
For a citizen who has a particular affliction to pollution, it may be about going online to find out, in real-time, what the least polluted route might be on a given day.
It’s also about discovering where those sections may be in the city and researching how to alleviate that pollution. At Melbourne University, they have put sensors in various parts of the city, and have planted trees in some of the more polluted areas, They found that they pollution significantly decreased in the leafier areas.
From this small example, it is obvious that a smart city is about constantly using the information to change and adapt itself, and so that the citizen can make the best choice.
And of course, while pollution is a major concern, it’s just the tip of the iceberg; smart city applications will be instrumental in areas as diverse as transportation, environmental concerns, emergency response and the prevention of natural disasters.
And the road to realising this potential won’t be easy. Prof. Marimuthu cites that there are many challenges on the road to the ideal smart city including: inter-operability, latency, standardisation and security and particularly integration of multiple platforms.
However, while these challenges aren’t small, he also acknowledges that if we can overcome these obstacles, then the life of a citizen living in a smart city could be completely transformed for the better.