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4 Principles for Designing Smart Cities

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Several HARMAN Connected Services’ team-members attended the Smart Cities Conference taking place in Boston during the first week of December. Although we are passionate about design driven engineering, we were among the minority of participants asserting design and experience are crucial to successful IoT deployments.

(This blog originally appeared in the IOT World News on December 20th  2016)


Andrew Till, head of technology for Harman Connected Services, talked to the audience about  a model dubbed SMAC-ED, (pronounced ‘smacked’) and standing for Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud –  Experience and Design, and how this provides a strong framework for deploying new technologies in a that puts the intended user at the center of project. 


The six components in the SMAC-ED model highlight a rubric on how to plan and manage Internet of Things (IoT) services. However, when it comes to smart cities future technologies offer an opportunity for far greater good. Cities occupy 2 percent of the earth’s surface area but drive 80 percent of the GDP with 6.5 billion people expected to be living in cities by 2050! And you thought traffic is bad now.


To help ensure meaningful and productive discussions we came up with some guiding principles for the conversations, and discussions, with our peers at the event.  Principles which city planners who are responsible for technology, IoT, or smart services might consider as they make investments into meeting the challenges and opportunities that our cities face - and will continue to face – all over the world.


1. Design Led Decisions

Smart parking applications will continue to offer revenue to cities. Conversion of street lights to LED will offer even greater energy savings to cities which help pay for upgrades to poles for monitoring traffic or the environment. But instead of viewing each of these applications in isolation, why not evaluate these in the context of pressing needs of the citizens, and the user journeys they take as they flow through the city, in other areas as well. Perhaps use crowdsourcing to brainstorm ideas on how to best utilize those savings in line with making the city more user-friendly.


Why is design essential when thinking of smart infrastructure? We talked up the notion of designing smart connected services for a city around the user experience of the citizenry. Paraphrasing those famous words from Steve Jobs: Design shouldn’t just be in how a city looks, but also in how a city works. A design that delivers a citizen experience that reduces the friction they face in their day-to-day living which will ultimately help to drive productivity and revenue for the city.


2. A Frictionless Citizen Experience

Currently we feel the friction in our daily living within a city each time we sit in a traffic jam during our commute. We sense that friction when we search for parking while out for recreation or shopping in the city. We also sense it while our children wait it out on a cold morning while the school bus is delayed by 10 minutes with no way to notify.


Once we’ve defined the desired living experience for our citizens, designing connected services around those experiences becomes a natural outcome. We could raise questions like:

  • Shouldn’t we be receiving real-time notifications a few minutes prior to the school bus’s arrival instead of having our children wait outside the extra time it’s late?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if a street light changing hue indicated an open parking spot - and traffic light plans adjusted to real-time traffic patterns?
  • Or what if monitors on street corners sent alerts to authorities when kids have been loitering in unsafe places?  
  • Such questions are a matter of the desired experience followed by relevant design.


3. Let Technology Follow the Experience

The subsequent technology choice to improve the smart infrastructure should, of course, meet the design expectations. For instance, a smartly designed analytics engine that is tied to sensors on roadways could offer real-time recommendations on adjusting traffic signal lighting plans on a busy night of shopping. The analytics capability at the edge should have the sense to distinguish that an emergency alert goes directly to the authorities in the area to their mobile devices for immediate action – not sent back over the cloud to a back-end application.  An over-the-air firmware update of a street light could turn tricky given the low bandwidth within a mesh, so let’s pick a solution that won’t cause the risk of failure which could seriously compromise the safety or the experience. Those same lights - if not secured through authentication - might unwittingly be co-opted by a hacker to orchestrate a cyber-attack. So let’s make sure we secure those well.


4. A Holistic View for Wholesome Living

A comprehensive design of the desired living experience – based on ongoing engagement with citizens - would help guide municipalities, towns and city planners maintain a pulse on how best to invest those incremental dollars. Whether those be towards parks, safety, WiFi & Broadband connectivity, healthcare facilities or preserving heritage sites, a citizen-centered decision making process would yield the most rewards.


Beyond automating individual functions for greater efficiency or revenue, the larger goal of a smart infrastructure initiative should be to make the city a more equal, wholesome and enjoyable living experience for its citizens. While the challenges facing cities appear daunting, the opportunities remain rewarding too. In being able to improve transportation, safety, connectivity, energy management, education, and healthcare; cities could well shape the quality of our lives with smart investments into the next generation infrastructure.


Let us know where you stand on smart services for a city. Chime in with your thoughts by writing to us on our twitter account @HARMANservices