Almost 50% of the population of the world lives in large cities, and by 2050 this number is to reach as much as 75%. No one actually knows what the city of tomorrow will look like.
Books and movies throughout the history made attempts to recreate the city of the future – some more successfully, some less – but experts say it’s time to begin to design smarter cities for the growing population. So the question is: What are they going to be like? And what challenges is the next generation going to be facing?
Companies such as Ford, AGT, Bosch, and Xerox, famous architects such as Sir Norman Foster and institutions like Oxford University seem to have a very clear image of what the future generations can expect. Or, at least, they are working on similar projects that can give us an idea of what these smart cities could look like.
Let’s have a look at some of those projects:
Droneports (Drone Airports)
The award-winning British architects Foster and Partners are responsible for the development of the first drone airport. The airport is now under construction in Rwanda and after the construction is finished, it will serve to transport medicines to areas that are too difficult to reach by road transport. The poverty of African infrastructures is one of the key reasons for the lack of medical supplies in Africa, Foster and Partners explained the relevance that this type of transport could have for the country.
Considering that the weight of 80% of the parcels is less than 2 kg, the use of drones as a means of transportation could greatly improve the time and prices of shipping.
The droneport construction in Rwanda is expected to be finished by 2020.
Green Future and Smart Cities
Some builders and developers are promoting the use of energy-efficient and “green” materials and others are expected to follow them.
Experts in sustainability forecast that cities will be carbon-free and full of electric vehicles and where the eco-buildings will naturally blend into the city-scape. They also say sensors will be installed that will provide information on weather, levels of pollution, traffic conditions or the general health of the city infrastructure.
3D Printed Homes
In March 2013, the Chinese company WinSun reported having printed 10 houses in 24 hours on a 3D printer using industrial waste mixed with mine tailings. Back then, nobody actually believed that these kinds of homes could last, but one year later WinSun proved the efficiency of their technology by building a 5-floor apartment house and an 11,840-square foot villa, including decorative elements inside and outside.
However, 3D printed homes are a reality that are going to be seeing more of as a result of the digital revolution. For instance, Dubai have recently announced the opening of the 1st ever 3D printed office house, and the first ever 3D printed bridge may be built in Amsterdam soon.
The Hyperloop continues to be in the headlines, with experts claiming that the vehicle will eliminate the barriers of distance and time. Many people consider that the real transportation revolution will rely on autonomous vehicles and a significant growth in the electric cars market.
Companies like Ford are expecting to produce fully autonomous cars by 2021 and their experts predict that diesel and petrol engines are likely to be gone in the next 15 years. For some people, this could be a disappointment, but the same was with the steam train along with the first cars powered by internal combustion engines – not to mention that some countries such as France are already planning to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2040.
For those who refuse this possible change, there are other advantages that experts of Ford Motor Company explain when they make their forecasts, such as the regular use of autonomous cars increasing car-sharing services. This is expected to contribute to the decrease in the number of cars and the need of parking areas, which will result in public space refurbishment: more green zones, wider pavements and, ultimately, more space for pedestrians to walk freely around the city.
Parking Adapted for Autonomous Cars
Xerox’s study, Keeping our Cities Moving, says that 20% of drivers in cities spend over 15 minutes looking for a parking space. In the city of tomorrow, this is not going to be a problem anymore. Bosch, Volkswagen, the Polytechnic Federal School of Zurich (ETH) and Oxford, Braunschweig and Parma Universities are cooperating to develop ‘V-Charge’, a system that will allow autonomous cars to find parking spaces and charging points without a driver.
As soon as the passenger gets out of the car, the application is activated and the passenger can choose a place and time to get back on the vehicle. When the passenger comes back, the car will be waiting for them there.
AGT is now working with different governments to figure out how safe a city is at any given time of the day. The company uses predictive algorithms and obtains data from a non-stop stream of sources including face recognition cameras, databases, video sensors, and social media inputs. This data is processed and converted into a comprehensive image of the city landscape which can be further used to identify and alert certain events, behaviors, and patterns or inform the authorities when incidents occur.
Vertical farming is means producing food in vertically stacked layers or other structures such as a warehouse or a skyscraper. As the world’s population keeps increasing, feeding them will require more and more land. Vertical farming could be a solution for sustainability growing in cities.
AeroFarms company owns the largest indoor vertical farm in the world. AeroFarms have invested $30m into the green solution trying to produce more crops in less space. They use a technology for growing crops in vertical stacks of plant layers, without soil, sunlight or water. The company currently operates 3 vertical farms in Newark, New Jersey (USA). The main one farm boasts an impressive 70,000 sq.ft. area and harvests up to £2m of crops per year.
These are just a few of the interesting features that we are expecting to see in smart cities of the future. It is obvious that an enormous amount of investments will be needed to make a city of tomorrow a reality, but the benefits are very likely to outweigh the costs.