Interactive Devices: Device of the Week – Smart Cities

The term “internet of things” is often used to refer to the domestic internet of things: how your phone can talk to your light switch, or how your door can talk to your TV. But it is in reality a much broader concept with applications in many different fields. This week we discussed what the “internet of things” means in healthcare and manufacturing. For this post I’m going to look at it applied to civil infrastructure — smart cities.

The concept of a “smart city” is a “smart home” writ large — where the “things” in the internet are not home appliances or pieces of furniture, but public transport services and electrical lines. A smart city is more than a collection of buildings and systems: it is an artificial organism which constantly adapts to serve the needs of its residents.

Songdo International Business District is a contemporary example of a smart city. An experiment by the Incheon city council, Songdo is a staggeringly ambitious project with the aim of redefining the concept of a “city” using modern engineering technology and design principles. As described by Citylab journalist Linda Poon:

While there are no holograms or robot butlers, Lee says that as far as futuristic conveniences go, Songdo does deliver. Pneumatic tubes send trash straight from her home to an underground waste facility, where it’s sorted, recycled, or burned for energy generation; garbage—and garbage trucks—are virtually nonexistent. Everything from the lights to the temperature in her apartment can be adjusted via a central control panel or from her phone. During the winter, she can warm up the apartment before heading home.

In Songdo, everything is monitored and everything is adjustable. Even the housing apartments are full “smart homes” with individual control panels and seamless connectivity between the parking lot, lifts, and living spaces. On a larger scale, sensors monitor electrical grid usage and traffic density, so that  the power supply or traffic flow of the city can be redirected to maximize efficiency.

Songdo may be an extreme example of the “smart city,” but in reality many cities are adopting “smart” technologies to improve quality of life and productivity. An example can be found in our very own Singapore, the perennial “smart nation.” While we don’t often think of it this way, Singapore’s complex system of ERP gantries and traffic lights are all linked to a sprawling internet of things that helps to coordinate rush hour traffic and redirect it through billboards or radio broadcasts.

In the future, communications technology may be integrated into our cities to such a degree that they radically change our way of life. For example, if self-driving cars become the standard mode of transport, they can communicate with each other and automatically calculate the fastest, most efficient route — no more traffic lights and no more traffic jams, since computers can drive faster and more accurately than human beings.


Why would you want to integrate an “internet of things” into a city?

  • Absurd efficiency gains: it does what you want, but way better
  • Quality of life: everything is always on time, the right temperature, etc.
  • Live in a Star Trek-esque utopia


  • More expensive to build and maintain
  • More points of failure: more ways that things can go wrong
  • Potential for social upheaval: what about the jobs that are no longer needed?
  • Security concerns: what if the power grid gets spoofed or compromised?

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Chin Kee Yong

hello i play video games and also sometimes make video games

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