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The future has already arrived, Smart Cities.

A smart city, the future.

No flying cars or giant advertising holograms. The future that has already arrived for large cities is more sober : recordings in images and via sensors, energy savings and data analysis have been some of the hallmarks of private and public initiatives within the scope of so-called “smart cities”.

A possible description is in the book “Paths for Smart Cities: From Traditional Management to the Smart City”. We call a Smart City one that has people at the center of development, adding information and communication technologies to urban management”, says the publication. Smart Cities  favor integrated and sustainable development by becoming more innovative, competitive, humane, attractive and resilient, improving lives.”

When  Mauricio Bouskela  wrote this description for the  Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) , he was coming from a project to transform the municipality of Parintins (AM) into a smart city. At that time, still working for Intel, the specialist describes that there were three pillars for the project: connectivity, devices, management centers and communication with citizens. Today, he is coordinator of the Smart Cities and Big Data Center at Insper’s Arq.Futuro de Cidades Laboratory.

Connectivity and the evolution of Broadband.

Connectivity is a central point of a smart city  and the evolution of broadband in recent years has enabled municipal governments to improve citizens’ access to the internet, but also to use it in public management. By connecting devices such as cameras and sensors, management centers are able to analyze data and guide better decisions, as well as better deal with emergencies, such as flooding and traffic.

A survey by Technavio points out that the  smart cities market is expected to generate US$2.1 trillion in 2024 around the world , but Brazil is not yet a major reference on the topic. The country, for example, does not have any municipality listed in the  Smart Cities Index , an index developed by universities such as the Korean Yonsei and the English Cambridge to analyze smart cities across the globe.

However, some municipalities have been making progress. Rio de Janeiro is mentioned by experts as an example of a city that is seeking solutions based on data  and partnerships with private companies.  According to the Connected Smart Cities ranking , by Urban Systems , the capital of Rio de Janeiro is the 10th smartest city in the country, behind municipalities such as Florianópolis (1st), Curitiba (2nd) and São Paulo (3rd).

In 2022, the city created a data office to bring innovations in data science implemented by the Department of Transport to other municipal departments. The person responsible for the transport project was João Carabetta, who was transferred to the role of  chief data officer  at the Rio Data Office after implementing a bus monitoring project via GPS capable of monitoring the efficiency of concession companies in serving their lines and, thus, improve the distribution of subsidies to those who follow their routes correctly.

Projects and problems.

Even though the projects do not solve all the problems at once, it is possible to unlock some new possibilities through a more organized data infrastructure —  Rio’s datalake  is on Google Cloud.

The city’s partnerships with big tech have even increased. According to Carabetta, the city has been using the Gemini artificial intelligence model  , recently launched by Google , to identify flooding through the approximately 3,500 cameras spread across the city and help the control center prevent incidents. “The tests have worked. The only AI errors were in images where not even humans could identify the flooding, such as when the cameras were swallowed by water,” she explains.

Big tech itself announced, in November,  a project developed with the Rio de Janeiro Traffic Engineering Company (CET) called “ Green Light ”, which aims to create green waves at traffic lights based on artificial intelligence . Using information such as traffic trends from Google Maps, the AI ​​model suggests schedules for traffic lights that improve traffic flow.

According to Google, preliminary data points to a potential reduction in vehicle stops by 30% , and CO2 emissions at intersections by more than 10% — carbon dioxide emissions are up to 29 times greater at intersections than on roads , points out research published by “Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts”. At the moment, only two intersections in Rio have the technology and another 70 around the world.

The smart cities agenda is, according to experts, directly connected with sustainability issues, whether in reducing pollutant emissions or optimizing the use of energy resources.

ABB, a technology multinational based in Zurich, Switzerland, has operated initiatives in Brazil focusing on smart homes and buildings, as well as mobility. “Since the Industrial Revolution, what has been the most common human movement? Leave the countryside and come to the city”, points out Gustavo Vazzoler, director of  smart building products and solutions  at ABB Eletrificação. For him, this movement makes the issue of housing and transport become central when it comes to making cities smart.

As in public management, the internet of things (IoT) — the use of interconnected devices to improve solutions — is the center of smart homes. Resources from locks to smart refrigerators are already commercialized and help to create an integrated system within homes that promotes greater practicality and lower energy use.

“Take for example the use of air conditioning. On hot days, I come home, press a control, set the temperature to the minimum possible and let it burn as much as possible”, explains Vazzoler. “So imagine: using the geolocation of your cell phone, the air conditioning unit is turned on when the resident arrives at a certain distance from your home, but with a temperature higher than the minimum, with less energy expenditure”, completes the example.

According to Vazzoler, on a basic basis, the reduction in energy consumption in a smart home or building is at least 30% . According to him, as a rule, anyone who builds a smart home is thinking more about practicality. But in a commercial building, a 30% reduction in energy expenditure has a major rational factor: financial savings.

Acclimatization with air conditioning, responsible for the largest energy expenditure in a building, is a good example of how smart commercial floors work. Consolidated data from light and temperature sensors can, for example, identify what adjustments a device called a variator must make to the temperature to keep it pleasant without having to make large variations between the minimum and maximum of the air conditioner.

There are several factors that come into play. Has the light outside increased? With data intelligence, it is possible to reduce the amount of indoor light to save money . But what if the sun is heating the environment too much to the point of increasing air conditioning costs? The calculation is made: will the expense be greater on air conditioning or lighting? If the answer is air conditioning, then the blinds are activated automatically.

“The automation system replaces all human interaction which, no matter how good it is, will not have the performance of the machine”, says Vazzoler. “A sensor can turn off all the lights in the building when there are no more employees, while someone from maintenance or a security guard would need to go around the entire building to turn them off,” he points out.

The company also develops products for charging cargo and passenger vehicles. The Connected Smart Cities ranking itself   takes into account low vehicle emissions as one of the cities’ classification factors. There is, however, a data science aspect involved. The charging points are connected to manufacturing companies, which facilitates remote maintenance and can even generate new sources of income.

“It is possible to put the chargers to work without anyone even touching them, reset the product, resolve charging problems, all through remote support. Press a button, there is an intercom so the user can talk to that person or the owner of the gas station”, explains Vazzoler. “And it also collects car data that can even be used for market purposes, indicating, for example, the brand that has the greatest autonomy and consumes the least in that particular type of pump.”

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