These Three Companies are Harnessing Big Data to Create Smart Cities

cityData is all around us, waiting to be collected, analyzed, and harnessed. When data is used to identify trends, efficiencies in city operations can easily be created, thereby creating “smarter” cities. Unsurprisingly, private tech companies are leading the way with innovative methods of creating safer and more efficient cities. Three companies in particular are pioneering the movement of cities towards using big data.

Sidewalk Labs – Flow

Just over a year ago, Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., announced its dive into the city-building business with Sidewalk Labs. Based in New York and headed by former New York Deputy Mayor, Dan Doctoroff, one of its products, Flow, is a software designed to manage congestion and parking problems with the goal of making urban transportation more efficient, equitable, and sustainable.

Towards the top of their to-tackle list is the mismatch between parking supply and demand, which manifests in the abundance of empty parking lots during off-peak hours and cars circling parking lots during peak times. A study by renowned parking critic, Donald Shoup, has estimated that 30% of city traffic is generated by drivers searching for parking. A solution Sidewalk Labs is actively working on is creating digital street inventories that will serve as a comprehensive database that collects real-time data from parking lots and channels this information to parking lot managers. Collected data can then be used to accurately model peak times for parking and make it possible to knit together previously fragmented spots into “shared” lots and inform drivers of available parking spots as they near their destination.

Cisco – South Korea’s garbage management system

Multinational tech corporation, Cisco Systems Inc., began plans for building a smart city with a project to connect the entire city of Songdo, South Korea starting back in 2000. Today, the city of 65,000 residents (with 300,000 commuting in per day) has infrastructure embedded with smart tech, including elements like fibre optic broadband, RFID tags on cars that monitor traffic and congestion, and a smart energy grid that adjusts its street lights to match pedestrian patterns. Cisco has also extended its reach to garbage collection with an underground collection system connected to each apartment. Data is generated via a chip card attached to garbage containers and sorting refuse into recycling, compost, and garbage is a fully automated process.

Baidu Inc. – crowd control

After the deadly New Year’s Eve stampede in Shanghai 2014 that killed 36 people, Baidu Inc. is harnessing data collected from its users to predict and avoid potentially deadly crowding in public spaces. With over 70% overall market share of mobile apps in China and 302 million users of its map services, China’s leading internet search company is well-equipped with data that can predict up to three hours in advance when a dangerously large number of people may congregate.

Whereas North Americans would quickly Google their infrequently-visited destinations before leaving their homes, the Chinese search their destinations on Baidu. Flags for abnormal crowding are then raised when an abnormally large number of queries are made on Baidu’s Map platform roughly 0.5 to two hours before a crowding event. In countries like China where populations are large and sociopolitical climates are volatile, predictive analyses using big data can be harnessed not only to improve safety and efficiency but also to save lives.

2ic-squareAt the speed of development in private sector technology, it is only a matter of time before cities like Toronto follow suit. At Intelligent Cities Summit, city officials will meet with technology solutions providers to discuss how both IoT and Big Data technologies can be used to increase efficiency in cities, help cities offer better services, improve the quality of life for citizens, and more. Meet 7 of the 10 largest Canadian municipalities, hear from top city administrators and join the conversation. Intelligent Cities Summit takes place at St. Andrew’s Club in Toronto on November 8-9, 2016. Register today to make sure you reserve your spot. With so much interest, the event is filling up. Find more information, download the brochure, and register here:


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