According to the most recent UN report on urbanization, by 2050 68% of the world’s population will have moved into urban areas, up from only 30% in 1950. Needless to say, our cities’ infrastructure is coming under ever-greater strain, all during a time when cities need to better conserve natural resources. While a lot of the public conversation has focused upon reducing our demand for resources, there’s also another side of the equation – discovering ways to satisfy demand in more efficient ways.
About the author
Martin Percival, Solutions Architect at Red Hat.
With the rise of new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), many cities are committing to these potent tools to tackle some of their most pressing social and ecological challenges. This has given rise to the idea of the “smart city”, which sees a city leverage real-time data and analytics to deliver more efficient and effective services to its citizens.
The overall goals of smart cities include service optimization for citizens, efficiency improvements, and cost savings. With this in mind, smart city initiatives can encompass a range of functions, including traffic management, parking space management, improved energy grids, digital systems for sustainable and renewable energy, disaster management or the optimization of street lighting. However, in order to take advantage of IoT, AI, ML and 5G and deliver the smart city, we also need edge computing.
Enabling smart cities with edge
Edge computing refers to the idea of handling computing and storage in close proximity to where data is generated. The advantage of this is that data does not need to travel back and forth from a far-off data center, cutting down latency and thus allowing software to work faster and more effectively, without the risk of service outages caused by transmission delays.
In a smart city, data can be processed at the edge of a network in the sensors or gateways at the side of the road, with only aggregated interim results needing to be sent further afield to a data center for central processing.
Edge computing enables greater network resilience too, as data does not need to travel so far to be processed, reducing the risk of disruption. Putting this into practice, edge computing enables technologies like 5G and IoT systems to function more effectively and the smart city to take shape.
New technologies and edge
With the adoption of edge computing for smart city networks allowing for data to be centralized on-premise and via cloud environments, edge can support very large numbers of systems with speed, security and flexibility. For example, an IoT system for ventilation in a smart hospital may constantly readjust itself in order to maintain optimum air quality. Leveraging edge computing in conjunction with ML, such a ventilation system can react in short order to changing air conditions and quality on-site.
Another partner for edge when building smart cities is 5G. 5G will be essential for very complex use-cases such as advanced traffic management in population-dense urban areas, owing to its high bandwidth and low latency allowing devices in the network to rapidly communicate and coordinate critical decisions with each other.
However, to ensure such networks can be safely and efficiently deployed, it’s essential to partner 5G capabilities with edge computing. The sheer quantity of data produced in such 5G-native networks means that local storage and computation is vital, as far-flung data centers along with large data volumes can impose unacceptable delays on time-critical processes that are essential for public safety.
Realizing the smart city with edge
As the quantity and variety of data needed to run smart cities grows, infrastructure based on edge computing will address some of the most fundamental challenges that smart cities will face.
Developments in IoT, AI, and 5G are becoming central to the smart city vision. At an operational level, we must look to leverage edge computing to realize the functions these technologies will service. Putting this into action, the smart city can depend on edge to support a number of associated technologies, like 5G and IoT networks, for a variety of tasks.
Amid a time of unprecedented growth and ever-greater environmental challenges, global cities are under pressure to find new and improved ways to make our urban centers efficient and sustainable. The smart city, through allowing us to to allocate resources based on real-time demand, is an essential part of such a move.
Cities can use these technologies with edge to support the needs of growing urban populations, and optimize the use of services. They can also use analytics to better conserve resources like fresh air, energy, water, and manage key systems like lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning. This would, in turn, help to deliver city services that are more cost-effective, sustainable, and are able to improve the quality of life of their citizens.