It doesn’t take attendance at a recent conference to know that smart cities are very much our future. That attendance did, however, clarify that while similar initiatives to digitally improve anything from infrastructure to energy usage are happening throughout the country and the world, they’re far from centralized.

The term smart city is abstract, denoting not an exact type of city but a general effort to improve its various infrastructure challenges through technology. That broad of a definition means no single solution exists. At the same time, closer analysis does show some tightly connected through-lines that are, in essence, the foundation on which these various initiatives are built. 

That’s where mapping technology enters the equation. Smart Cities Connect showed many things, but the need for more consistent technology and connectivity was chief among them. Already, academic researchers are digging into the various ways in which maps can and need to support smart cities

The connections between smart cities and maps are crucial to understand. They help to explain exactly what we can expect over the next few years of smart city planning, while also uncovering the potential and possibilities of mapping as it relates to a variety of industries and use cases.

Comprehensive Maps as the Smart City Foundation

If smart cities build on data, maps are the foundation on which that data can be integrated. That deceptively simple concept is at the heart of the intersection between the two concepts, as VentureBeat explained in a recent feature:

The use cases for maps continues to explode. Cities are turning to smart parking, planners are relying on mapping data to make infrastructure decisions, and delivery services need more granular information that is up-to-the minute. Other businesses are using geotargeting in marketing and ecommerce. And of course, autonomous and connected vehicles need sophisticated mapping for information.

Each of these points deserves a further breakdown, which we’ll do in the sections below. But first, it’s important to realize these benefits on a broader scale. In a recent study, for instance, the global initiative Dalberg found that embracing maps in making its cities smarter would save India, a country that will receive 400 million new residents in its urban environments by 2035,

  • Cost and energy savings upwards of $8 billion
  • The ability to save 13,000 lives through a safer environment
  • Reductions of 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

These numbers are ambitious. They can’t be proven yet. The general sentiment, though, stands. Urban migration is occuring throughout the world, and the right maps can help cities get smarter to save money, lives, and the environment. Not a bad triumvirate to aim for. That happens through map-supported infrastructure and energy decisions, emergency response mechanisms, and even digital twins. Let’s dig into each of these areas.

How Mapping and Real-Time Data Integration Impacts Infrastructure Decisions

Smart cities are, in large part, about infrastructure. Their ability to leverage data can lead to a variety of opportunities for city planners, improving the ways in which the entire environment functions. Infrastructure, in turn, depends largely on the map designed to both visualize data and place it into a larger context.

Think about a simple Google map of a city you’re familiar with. It already shows real-time traffic, allowing savvy drivers to find alternative routes and reduce congestion. Now, multiply that effect by going deeper on that same map.

Potential Improvements to the Typical Map

Imagine the decisions that can be improved with any or all of the following possibilities:

  • Parking maps that show exactly which lots are open and closed, avoiding the endless driving around during work hours and shopping times that waste both energy and clog the streets.
  • Public transit maps that show the bus and subway schedules, accounting for delays as they occur. More efficient transportation leads to more productivity and a better urban environment.
  • Navigational maps that provide the nuanced data points and location information needed for sophisticated self-driving, anonymous vehicles to drive safely within city confines.
  • Rendered maps of proposed infrastructure and construction projects that allow community and decision-makers to visualize both the project and its impact, comment on it, and track their progress.

For city planners, this information can be absolutely invaluable. It replaces the formerly common educated guesswork with nuanced, data-based decision-making processes designed to optimize the city for the future and its community. More informed decisions ultimately lead to a better planning process and, as mentioned above, significant benefits to the community at large.

Of course, the maps have to be right in order to reap these rewards. That means, above all, two components: accuracy down to the detail and real-time data integration on a massive scale. Thanks to rapid advances in technology, mapping solutions are now able to reliably provide both, significantly aiding the decision-making process in any smart city initiative.

Analysis of Energy Usage and its Benefits

Perhaps not surprisingly, energy consumption is among the most important factors when managing any city. In fact, the $35 billion investment in smart cities by 2022 is often justified by the significant cost savings that this change and trend tends to bring with it. The cost to switch is considered an investment, more than worth the price given the millions in average energy savings.

To get to that point, of course, requires strategy. For many cities, that might include a switch to a completely different kind of energy delivery system:

One of the most appealing aspects of urban smart energy, at least from a consumer perspective, is the possibility to break the hegemony of a centralised distribution system and make power more local. It’s a challenge to the traditional utility structure certainly, but microgrid projects offer a glimpse into how local, distributed energy infrastructure can improve system resilience.

Exploring Microgrids through Maps

These types of microgrids, once again, are only possible through the right mapping solution. They have to be planned out strategically, based on both average energy usage for a given community and the ability to deliver power to that community. A cost-benefit analysis of this process is vital in making it work and realizing its potential benefits.

Once again, that’s where mapping tends to enter the conversation. Live data integration is not limited to traffic or autonomous cars, but can also include energy streams as they flow through the city. This is its own type of infrastructure project, a complex web that requires significant expertise to analyze. The right analysis, however, can lead to significant benefits in the long run.

Think about the possibilities. If you can find and define exactly where energy tends to be overloaded and more costly, you can even it out. Through mapping, you can create ‘energy communities’ based on optimal usage and delivery. The result is a significant improvement in efficiency, which ultimately results in cost savings.

Rio de Janeiro and the Possibilities of Smart Mapping in Emergency Responses

Energy and infrastructure are undoubtedly top priorities for any cities looking to improve their data operations while looking into the future. Of course, they’re far from the only achievable objectives in this area. Around the world, a number of global centers have taken up the challenge of solving local problems with better operations, data, and mapping. In many ways, Rio de Janeiro has led the way.

The Brazilian metropolis earned the “World Smart City Award” from the Smart City Expo World Congress in 2013. The reason largely focused around the fact that Rio has been using a number of technologies that are specifically designed around better emergency response.

Why Rio de Janeiro?

The initiative focuses on the city’s Operations Center, which launched in 2010 specifically designed to manage the complex city environment and better respond to violent or tragic incidents.

In the years since its inception, the Center began a 24-hour monitoring system based largely on maps fed information through a network of sensors and traffic cameras. Real-time data feeds about anything from weather and traffic to police and medical service availability enabled faster more comprehensive decision-making.

A forecasting system can predict emergencies in advance, while resources can be more quickly diverted to the right spaces. In fact, as a result of this operation, Rio reduced its response time to emergencies by 30%, potentially saving a significant number of lives in the process.

Not all is flawless, of course. In the years since winning that award, Brazil and its flagship technology initiative have come under scrutiny for underwhelming 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic events, which have unearthed some of the flaws in Rio’s smart city project. Nonetheless, it’s instructive to learn from a developing country’s abilities to tackle a core problem successfully using effective mapping.

From Smart Maps to ‘Digital Twins’ that can Predict Operations

All of the above examples still focus on relatively traditional maps, flat models like the ones we’re used to on a consumer-level augmented with real-time data to make them more usable and beneficial in the decision-making process. It doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, increasingly, we’re expanding into true 3D realms to make maps even more beneficial in smart city initiatives around the world.

Allow us to introduce you to the concept of “digital twins,” digital models that are exact replicas of the cities they represent. Defined more fully,

A digital twin is a virtual model of a city, a replica of the physical world. They are rapidly becoming indispensable tools to visualize the pulse of the city in real time with layered data sources of buildings, urban infrastructure, utilities, businesses, movement of people and vehicles.

Benefits of a Digital Twin

The benefits of such a model are clear: they allow city officials at any level to test anything before putting it into practice. That might include models of:

  • Energy consumers that predict the flow of energy should it be redirected.
  • Construction sites and infrastructure projects to determine their impact on their surroundings.
  • Traffic and road changes or closures to estimate their impact on congestion throughout the city.
  • Buildings that allow firefighters to predict how a fire spreads and how to best access the building.

Of course, these are just a few of literally countless examples. Think of the leap from a 2D map to a digital twin as akin to the move from simple numbers to predictive analytics. It’s a whole new world and one that allows planners to change their perspective from looking at the present or past to actually predict the future.

Here’s the kicker: digital twins are still, in essence, simple maps supported by real-time GIS data. They’re just built differently, more complex, and more able to be manipulated by those who need to play through variables. As such, they’re perhaps the most comprehensive example of just how closely digital maps and smart cities are related to each other.

We’re Just Getting Started in Building Smart Cities 

Smart cities have gone so far beyond science fiction. We’re seeing them in local communities like Columbus, and developing countries like Brazil and India. As the concept develops further, so will its need to find the right technology to execute these admittedly ambitious concepts.

That’s where maps come in. As outlined above, the unique features of modern digital maps allow city planners and decision-makers to improve the ways in which they build anything from infrastructure to energy planning. Public busing and better parking are just as important as understanding optimal times to turn street lights on and off.

And that’s just the beginning. As smart maps evolve, so will their abilities to impact the ways in which smart cities can be built. As the foundation and building block of the concept, the two are inextricably intertwined. One will not move forward without the other.

That’s where we come in. Concept3D’s expertise in mapping translates directly into our interest and desire to help the smart cities of the present and future. The side-effects, from improving our own solutions across a variety of industries, will only continue to drive that expertise forward. Contact us to learn more about our services, and how your needs as a business can feed into the capabilities digital maps can provide.


Request a demo button