Smart cities and the Internet of Things – empowering the citizen






The ex Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo once said “Internet + Internet of things = Wisdom of the earth”

Indeed the Internet of Things revolution promises to transform many domains ..

Here, I present a personal, citizen centric and a realistic view of where it is going

It is the basis of my Smart city talk at Close and Remote this week

As the term Internet of Things implies (IOT) – IOT is about Smart objects

For an object (say a chair) to be ‘smart’ it must have three things

-       An Identity (to be uniquely identifiable – via iPv6)

-       A communication mechanism(i.e. a radio) and

-       A set of sensors / actuators

For example – the chair may have a pressure sensor indicating that it is occupied

Now, if it is able to know who is sitting – it could co-relate more data by connecting to the person’s profile

If it is in a cafe, whole new data sets can be co-related (about the venue, about who else is there etc)

Thus, IOT is all about Data ..

By 2020, we are expected to have 50 billion connected devices

To put in context:

  • The first commercial citywide cellular network was launched in Japan by NTT in 1979

The milestone of 1 billion mobile phone connections was reached in      2002

The 2 billion mobile phone connections milestone was reached in 2005

The 3 billion mobile phone connections milestone was reached in 2007

The 4 billion mobile phone connections milestone was reached in February 2009.

So, 50 billion by 2020 is a large number

There are two classes of applications that will drive the uptake of IOT

a)     Top down – mainly corporate/vendor led – ex Smart metering, vending machines etc and

b)    Citizen led – more grassroots, citizen led approaches

Maslow said – “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

That’s pretty much how companies see IoT and Smart cities i.e. they each come from their respective strengths (ex for Intel, it is a Microprocessor problem, for Cisco it is a video problem etc etc)

For that reason, I believe that the later(citizen led IoT approach) will be more disruptive

Smart cities can be seen as an application domain of IOT

In 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population will be living in towns and cities. By 2030 this number will swell to almost 5 billion, with urban growth concentrated in Africa and Asia with many mega-cities(10 million + inhabitants). By 2050, 70% of humanity will live in cities.

That’s a profound change and will lead to a different management approach than what is possible today

Also, economic wealth of a nation could be seen as – Energy + Entrepreneurship + Connectivity                                                                               (sensor level + network level + application level)

So, what makes a city ‘smart’?

Building upon the previous discussion, my view is a Smart city is a city that behaves like the Internet i.e. is a platform/enabler for it’s citizens

Thus, the citizens make the city ‘smart’ by adding knowledge, value, data etc

This is a part of a wider socio economic trend to go from ‘mass production’ to ‘smaller individualized services’ – ex in music, in urban farming, in the Bristol pound, in local sourcing of food etc.

For the same reason, I am not a believer in the Urban Operating system

The three areas I focus on are

a)     Open source hardware and software as an enabler to smart cities (Arduino, Raspberry Pi etc)

b)    Education – especially my ed-tech start-up feynlabs  -which is focussed on accelerating the learning of computer science for young people especially using Physical computing(building interactive physical systems which can sense and respond to the Analog world – especially applications that can be created by the Raspberry Pi and Arduino)

c)     Internet freedom – Bills like SOPA, CISPA etc which go against the ethos of the Internet

Look fwd to the discussion

Ajit Jaokar @AjitJaokar

ajit.jaokar at