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Smart Cities are Better Cities: Supporting Mobility and Inclusion

To transform their municipalities around better traffic and transit flow – a movement now widely known as mobility – cities need systems and technologies to improve public transit ridership, improve city congestion, encourage rideshare systems and reduce dependence upon single-rider gas-powered vehicles.

Examples of the initiatives underway include more efficient and available electric vehicle charging stations, convenient bike rentals for getting around the city, smart traffic management to reduce smog-producing traffic, connected vehicle programs, enhanced mobility for disabled residents, and bike and boat taxis.

The benefits for residents of these smart cities will be better traffic flow, the ability to get to destinations regardless of your ability to walk, bike or drive, and much more. And in the process, city residents will benefit from cleaner air.

The "Why" of Smart City Mobility

The ability to move people in a city more efficiently with fewer resources will have a huge positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions and public health, while reducing healthcare costs. The stats supporting the need for mobility solutions are impressive:
  • "Air pollution has a quantifiable economic cost," says Smart Cities Dive, citing the dollar figure of roughly $900 billion or 5% of US GDP annually, from a 2019 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • An INRIX study estimated that congestion cost drivers in the US more than $305 billion in direct and indirect costs in one year – a staggering number. This means even a 1% reduction in congestion can save drivers $3 billion. 
  • A study by the European Court of Auditors found that air pollution causes an estimated 400,000 deaths each year in Europe, in addition to “hundreds of billions of euros in health-related external costs.”
  • Another study by the European Commission revealed that “urban mobility accounts for 40% of all CO2 emissions of road transport.”
  • Some research indicates that autonomous vehicles could reduce travel time by up to 40%, an incredible gain in efficiency and reduction in fuel consumption.
Self-driving cars, electric vehicles and smart traffic management systems can all make a difference. In this article we’ll look at some of the new developments enabling smart city infrastructure, and also provide a few real world examples of cities that are already adopting these exciting new technologies.

The Future of Urbanization: Electric Vehicles, Smart Traffic Management and Other Solutions

To improve urban air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cities must build the supporting infrastructure. One action that cities can take is to build out electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. That infrastructure can benefit not only commuters but also professional vehicles like taxis and electric ride share vehicles as well. The more charging options are available in a city, the more incentive drivers will have to turn to non-fossil fuel consuming vehicles. Meanwhile GPS-enabled systems can direct an EV owner to the closest, unoccupied station so that they don’t have to wait to charge their car.

Next generation cities can make use of smart traffic management systems to reduce gridlock. On the most basic level a smart traffic management system can identify backups and send out alerts to drivers to avoid these areas. However, this is just the beginning. With more sensors and cameras, smart traffic and AI systems can utilize adaptive control throughout city streets, and analyze data to predict what conditions are likely to lead to traffic buildup and divert drivers before gridlock forms. 

Another important aspect of the smart city is creating a better experience for disabled residents, from the wheelchair bound to those with vision impairments. One critical improvement is creating a more extensive public transport network with improved services and access for those with disabilities, as well as routing notifications for the impaired.

The growth of ride sharing services demonstrates the need for solutions to address the "last mile problem" and reduce the need for every city resident to own a personal vehicle. Today the landscape is primarily dominated by services such as Uber and Lyft. As AI and other enabling technologies mature, these ride share services will likely be augmented by fleets of autonomous vehicles owned by the city, with AI-managed route planning for maximum efficiency.
Such services will become increasingly important as cities age. It’s estimated that between the years of 2035 and 2050, 1.6 billion people will be above the age of 65. This will place a large demand on mobility services in large cities, which means it is important to plan and build out infrastructure now.

Digi Customer Spotlight: Smart City Solutions

Digi customer stories provide great examples of the range of smart solutions that are being developed and deployed to solve the mobility, environment and infrastructure challenges cities are facing:
  • AddÉnergie develops and operates electric vehicle charging stations using Digi XBee® Zigbee modules and other Digi solutions.
  • SMART Transit Authority of Greater Detroit operates a fleet of over 330 biodiesel and hybrid-electric buses, transporting more than 32,000 riders daily. By deploying Digi cellular routers, they were able to upgrade aging AVL systems and save over $70,000 annually. 
  • EMTEST of Slovakia developed a next-generation on-board system for public transit, using Digi ConnectCore® embedded system-on-modules, to handle fare collection, passenger information and fleet control.
  • Reborn Electric of Chile developed a business model around retrofitting gas powered buses into electric buses to help reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality in Santiago, using Digi ConnectCore 6 SBC modules.
  • MiraBella Energy develops an innovative bi-facial solar city lighting solution with panels that attach to city lights and collect sunlight from both sides of the panel. Their solution utilizes Digi XBee modules, Digi gateways and Digi Remote Manager for remote device management. 
  • GeneSys Sensor and Navigation Solutions designs automotive sensor solutions for applications such as connected vehicles, using Digi's line of transit cellular routers.
  • IER, a subsidiary of the Bolloré Group-one of the 500 largest companies in the world, offers a range of intelligent and connected electric vehicle charging solutions that integrate Digi  ConnectCore 6 embedded systems, as well services to support deployment.
  • TransData of Slovakia develops advanced public transportation services to improve the rider experience, including improved ticketing, GPS and Wi-Fi services, with Digi Connect Core 6 embedded modules.
  • Macchina develops innovative automotive electronics for the smart automotive market, using Digi XBee Cellular modems

Smart Cities Mobility Projects: Innovation and Cost Savings

The goals of mobility projects are many, as we've discussed – from reduction in congestion and carbon emissions to improved services for the disabled and cost factors. What may be surprising is that many cities that are deploying new technologies and infrastructure upgrades are finding that it can save them money. 

For example, cities that are deploying high-performance cellular routers with technologies such as combined public and private data solutions, dual APN and cellular failover can replace multiple older products and expensive-to-maintain wired infrastructure. They can also improve their predictive maintenance methods, often identifying needed repairs in their systems before those systems fail and cause downtime. 

See our recent article on Top 12 Smart Cities in the U.S. for some excellent examples demonstrating the breadth of smart city projects – especially our #1 pick, New York City, which deploys thousands of cellular routers on street corners across the city to improve traffic flow, reduce congestion, and improve emergency response. 

Europe has many smart city projects in development as well. For example, Copenhagen has an excellent data sharing system. Smart city projects can get basic information about citizens and businesses which they can use to grow their platforms and provide better, more efficient services to city dwellers. One specific example is their Copenhagen Connecting project which uses data from cell phones and other devices to manage traffic and provide information to drivers such as parking availability.

The Path Forward

Worldwide, cities are evaluating and deploying solutions that stand to improve mobility, air quality and the quality of life – to address concerns ranging from gridlock to climate change. Smart cities are the way of the future and at Digi we are excited to continue exploring all of the ways that we can support smart cities in leveraging the latest technologies to improve life and mobility for their residents. 

Contact us to start the conversation. Digi experts can help you determin the right technologies to meet your goals, and can support design, development and deployment as a stepping stone to your city's future.
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