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Cisco Brings Smart Cities Within Reach

The concept of the smart city is one that holds a lot of promise and potential in terms of how computerized, networked public infrastructure might improve energy efficiency, resource management, and the overall quality of life in cities. Given the impact that computers and smart phones have had on our personal and professional lives, it seems that the application of computer technology to the infrastructure of cities has even greater potential to change the way we live. Despite this potential, and with only a few exceptions, smart city technologies have yet to be adopted in most places.

But, according to Cisco, this all may be about to change.

study by ABI Research estimates that $39.5 billion will be spent globally on smart city technologies in 2016, up from only $8 billion in 2010. That's $116 billion over six years. In order to demonstrate some of the ways in which this money is likely to be invested, Cisco created an interactive infographic showcasing its smart, connected City of the Future. A few highlights include:

Grid monitoring and control: Sensors will monitor and control the grid in near real time, detect problems early and prevent blackouts. Sensors in buildings will gather, analyze, and display real time energy use and individual resource consumption data. Online energy dashboards will provide real-time visibility of this information while suggesting ways to reduce consumption.

Smart transportation pricing: Cities will be able to better manage demand for urban transportation by charging intelligent fees for road use and communicate transportation information by taking advantage of GPS systems and wireless communications technology.

Green gauges: Buses will collect information such as energy usage and real time environmental data about the city which will then be aggregated into a visualization of the health of different areas of the city.

Telepresence: Residents will be able to experience a truly technology-enabled lifestyle through digital infrastructure systems built into the city's framework. Services will include education systems, security, virtual learning, and concierge services.

Location-based advertising and social networking: Location-based technology will allow for customized real-time advertising in stores and on the street. Integration into the transit system provides the opportunity for making place recommendations where you might be sent a copy of a review a friend wrote about a restaurant as your bus passes by it.

The cities that are getting serious about investing in smart infrastructure are largely the product of partnerships with the major technology and telecommunications companies which see huge opportunity in this industry and are making big moves into the sector. GE, Cisco, and IBM are all actively deploying their new technologies in smart cities projects around the world. For example, GE had been heavily involved in the development of the ultra sustainable Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. Cisco is working on a smart city project in the Songdo International Business District in South Korea which is being built from the ground up. And IBM has created the Smarter Cities Challenge, a grant competition that will award $50 million worth of consulting assistance to 100 cities over the next three years.

At the heart of any smart city is a smart grid. Cisco recently announced the addition of a whole new suite of technologies and services that are aimed at helping utilities modernize their grids. When investing in smart grid technology, utilities want reassurance that their new technologies are flexible enough to expand and to address new applications and needs that develop over time. Cisco's GridBlocks Architecture, which provides complete blueprint for smart grid deployments, fills this need by providing a forward-looking view of the integration of the electrical grid with digital communications technology. Their Connected Grid services are intended to be a complete solution to smart grid development that helps electric utilities in planning, designing and optimizing these new smart grids. In fact, Cisco will even offer its services as a single, internet-enabled utility by bundling urban necessities like water, power, traffic and telecommunications services.

Unfortunately, recent news suggests that investment in new smart grid technologies is losing momentum due to economic uncertainty and a lack of clear direction in the sector. It remains to be seen if Cisco's new technologies can move smart cities out of our imaginations and make them a reality.

[Image credit: Ollie Richardson, Flickr]

*** Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.

Kara Scharwath

Kara is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant with expertise in consumer research and environmental science. Currently, Kara is working as a Graduate Associate on the <a href="http://corporate.disney.go.com/citizenship2010/">Corporate Citizenship</a> team at the Walt Disney Company. She is also a founding partner of <a href=http://besui.com/">BeSui Consulting</a>, a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in consumer insights and marketing communications.

Kara graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in <a href="http://admissions.rutgers.edu/Academics/AcademicContent.aspx?CAMPUS=New… Policy, Institutions and Behaviors</a>. She is currently pursuing her M.B.A. in Sustainable Management from <a href'"http://www.presidioedu.org/">Presidio Graduate School</a> where she is exploring the impact investing space and working to identify new ways to increase access to capital for start-ups and social ventures. Follow her on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/karameredith">@karameredith</a&gt;.

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