A Vision of a Smart, Happy, City

robert-saracco-smart-cities-562x366The city of the future will be self-aware, much like a being, says Chair of IEEE’s Future Directions Committee, and EIT ICT Labs Italian Node Director, Roberto Saracco. These cities will be able to reconfigure themselves, based on what’s happening, and what might happen, in the immediate future.

“You have two versions of cities,” Saracco explains with the sort of enthusiasm and passion one might describe a future near enough to touch. “One is made of atoms. You and me, and cars, and all this sort of thing. We are atoms. Then you have another version which is a mirror city, which is made of bits. And the two are connected to one another. If you have sensors in the one, it can connect to the other. “

Many disciplines will be required to make our cities smarter around the world; IT infrastructure, crowdsourcing, utility services optimization, and others. Sensors will continue to play a crucial role in communications between these two cities, until such a time when communication tools are innate. Only then will cities truly be smart.

“Now, you have things that lack smartness. And you want nonetheless to capture something, some data, from these unsmart things, and so you need sensors,’ Saracco says. But in the future, all objects will be produced with the capacity of communicating, and the capacity of interacting. And therefore, you will no longer need sensors.”

Before his current role as Director at EIT ICT LABS Italy, Saracco served as Future Center Director, and Director of Long Term Research at Telecom Italia. “I have been looking to the future for many, many years. And my interests were based on thirty years of expanding research, trying to invent something new. Of course, if you want to invent something new, you have to have to look around and see if by any chance it’s already been invented, which is almost usually the case. “

But it was this looking around that led him to see the connections; how the parts all fit together. “Technology is enabling economics and social evolution,” he says. “At the same time, social evolution and economic evolution is either directing or constraining technology evolution. So it’s quite an interesting experience.”

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the evolution of cities. “I kept trying to do this thing; trying to match together economic, social and technology evolution. And of course a city is a clear example of that. And when you are looking at smart cities, you see all the pieces.”

Saracco is sharing that broad vision with his colleagues at IEEE. “When I started at IEEE, I said, ‘Look folks, we are technical guys. And because we are technical guys we feel that technology is great.’ But if you are looking at smart cities and you look at the ranking of smart cities, and then you look at the rankings of happiness of the citizens, you discover that they have very little in common. People might be living in what is today ranked low in smartness, based on technology penetration, and yet they may be living a happier life than others living in “smartier” cities. So what I’m trying to do in the IEEE is consider together these two factors so that we strive towards smarter cities that make people live a happier life .”

How close is this happy, smart city? Saracco says the technology is already here, and progress is underway, though he notes, “A smart city is not a point of arrival, rather an ever-shifting horizon… what really matters is the voyage. Because of that, we will not have a smart city tomorrow, nor in ten years time.” He continues, “We have to prepare new engineers to build the trails, leading a broad community to make and enjoy the voyage.”

It doesn’t take a fortune-teller to know that the emerging communities currently in incubation at IEEE – cloud computing, smart grid, electric vehicles, green ICT, internet of things, life sciences and RFID – as well as a new flagship initiative, “The IEEE Urbanization Challenge,” are the components that, when fully utilized, will provide a seamless path to the city of the future.

For more information on Smart Cities initiatives with which IEEE is currently connected, please visit:

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