Transforming smart cities with real-time data

By Deepak Ajmani

Deepak Ajmani, Area Vice President of APAC Commercial Sales at Confluent shares how smart cities process data in real-time from thousands of sources.

A smart city consists of a network of sensors, cameras, and devices so the public has information on their urban environment. Whether it's earthquake warnings, or traffic updates, smart cities help keep citizens in the loop.

The key to unlocking a smart city lies in reassessing how data is managed. The three principles are: data needs to be actively transmitted across different channels, it needs to be secure, and it needs to be scalable.

Developments in transport, crisis response, and energy are paving the future of smart cities. Data is the key to unlocking these innovations.

Real-time updates in transportation 

To keep a city moving, governments need to look at how traffic management can be improved. Traffic departments must ensure that data is constantly shared and integrated between different locations and computer systems.

When a road traffic accident takes place, it is crucial for first responders to reach the incident site as quickly as possible. Traffic departments need to have real-time information at their disposal on local congestion levels and road closures.

This enables them to effectively plan the shortest, quickest and safest route for traffic as well as the emergency services who need to get to the incident. It’s also important that citizens have real time information on the situation so they can plan accordingly.

A 30-minute or an hour-long delay processing this data would be detrimental in this situation. It would cause unnecessary tailbacks and could even make the difference between life and death.

A city is always moving and never at rest. Similarly, data should always be flowing between networks to provide live traffic updates. Getting the data to correlate and talk to each other is also important to gain full visibility of traffic conditions.

Autonomous vehicles are another smart city project where real-time updates are key. Singapore is looking to expand its use of autonomous vehicles for public transportation, where on-board sensors will enable the unmanned vehicles to drive safer and be more alert than a human driver, explains the country’s Land Transport Authority.

Having a continuous flow of data remains the key to making autonomous vehicles safe. Confluent systems can help autonomous vehicles speed up their data processing, and with data from multiple vehicles being analysed in real time.

Security for crisis response 

While we speak about data moving between different sources, the most important aspect lies in building a secure environment so that data is not compromised.

Governments should consider having zero downtime for their services. A system that is down cannot detect threats, and therefore becomes prone to security breaches which could lead to devastating consequences.

Recently, government computer systems experienced a glitch during a deadly tornado outbreak in Winterset, Iowa. This led to delayed warnings to tell residents to take cover and could have potentially endangered their lives, reports The Washington Post.

Scalability with the cloud

Finally, governments need to ensure that their systems can scale up and down to meet rising and falling citizen demand.

The volume of data collected is not consistent all the time. For example, in the energy sector, electricity consumption is highest during the summer months as households and businesses use air conditioning on hot days.

Governments can use cloud services to address this issue. Instead of having to build new data centres when demand increases, the cloud can grow or shrink depending on what the user needs.

We also want to look at how data can be managed in the most cost-effective way.

Smart cities can be realised by encouraging developers to build applications with real-time data, securing data, and ensuring that data storage systems are scalable. Having data in motion is the key to making smart cities resilient and ready to boost the citizen experience.