Smart cities promise to improve our lives, whether through better health monitoring, smarter buildings, improved outdoor spaces or reduced traffic congestion.

This is important because the 21st century is going to be the century of cities. By 2050, two thirds of the world will live in a city.

Cities offer more choices, better education, a greater diversity of people and interests and better employment opportunities. A 2011 McKinsey study revealed that the world’s top 600 cities accounted for a staggering 60% of global GDP. So it makes sense for people to move to cities to make the most of these opportunities.

But as urban populations swell, this places an increasing strain on the city’s infrastructure.

Traffic congestion is becoming the biggest challenge for modern cities. In the world’s most congested cities – Mexico City, Bangkok and Istanbul – traffic adds more than 50% to journey times during peak hours. The congestion makes people late for work and stresses them out before they arrive. It makes deliveries late, disrupting supply chains, and it wastes fuel. In Los Angeles it’s estimated that each resident loses $6,000 a year in traffic, mostly due to lost time that could be better spent elsewhere and increased fuel consumption.

Cars stuck in stop-start congestion emit far more pollutants than usual, including carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and particulate matter. In many areas, vehicle emissions have become the dominant source of air pollutants. Outdoor air pollution kills 3.3 million people every year, more than HIV, malaria and influenza combined.

And what about finding a parking spot? More inner city traffic only makes it harder to find one and up to 30% of the cars crawling around the city centre are actually looking for a parking spot.

That’s why we need smarter cities.

In Karlsruhe, Germany, the city is addressing all these issues and more with smart streetlights. The utilities industry is being disrupted and utilities need to find new business models to adapt to this volatile market environment. Local utility EnBW is doing just that. Partnering with SAP, they are running a pilot project in the city called Sm!ght – smart, city, light.

Streetlights have enormous potential. As project lead Matthias Weis explains:

Streetlights are part of the infrastructure in almost every street in almost every city in the world, and they’re laid out in a regular, structured grid. Therefore, streetlights are an ideal medium to add additional technological features to.

The Sm!ght streetlamps include free public wifi, an emergency button and environmental sensors that can measure things such as particulate matter concentrations. To tackle inner city pollution, Sm!ght helps drive electric vehicle (EV) adoption by offering an EV charging point in every lamppost, combating the ‘range anxiety’ that concerns many potential buyers.

Radar sensors monitor the amount of traffic passing and also whether the charging point is available. This IoT data is distributed in real time with the HANA Cloud Platform to enable decisions to be taken on the spot, such as diverting traffic, or guiding cars to a free parking spot. Smart parking offers a number of benefits to a city including increased revenue as well as reduced traffic.

As Frank Mentrup, Mayor of Karlsruhe says:

We want to be a modern, innovative city and we want to promote what has been developed here…the Sm!ght lamps are a prime example because here, IT, energy and mobility merge.

Karlsruhe is setting the example by using technology to enable an infrastructure tailored to the needs of the city of tomorrow. To see more ways technology can make cities smarter, check this out.

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  1. Derek Klobucher

    Thanks for sharing, Gavin. It’s great to know that cities are taking such creative steps to solve their problems.

    But do these cities also have to get creative in order to finance these solutions? Or are there grants for such civic improvements?

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  2. Gavin Mooney Post author

    Hi Derek – I think it really depends on the city. I would see these improvements as along similar lines to converting streetlights to LED, upgrading a road or adding a new metro line.

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