The rise of smart cities is here, and these connected urban environments have become a major focus for many countries. Excluding Japan, the countries that make up Asia-Pacific are spending on smart cities projects is set to reach $28.3 billion in 2018, according to new figures from the IDC. While cities experiment with how to implement technologies that will bring benefits to inhabitants and economies, blockchain has also quickly gained traction and can be in integral part of making smart cities a success.
Much more than buzzwords, blockchain and smart cities can work together to create a successful future. To find out how, we must first break down each concept.
The concept of a smart city is one that combines information and communication technologies in an effort to improve services such as transportation and utilities, decreasing wastage and in increasing cost saving. Many cities take this concept and implement it on a relatively simple scale — for example, the use of sensors for things such as signalling how many parking spaces are available in garages, traffic stops and street lights.
A set of street lights in a smart city will, for example, use sensors to detect human activity in order to increase the lighting during periods of activity and then decrease lighting when there is a lack of activity. A system like this could help the city save on electricity costs in the long run, and will ensure that residents benefit from a proper street lighting system.
But cost saving isn’t the only thing that a smart city can improve — it can also assist in areas such as traffic flow management. Traffic stops equipped with sensors can detect the presence and amount of cars waiting at a stop, and then manage an intersection to ensure a smooth flow of traffic.
There are many other examples where this type of smart city technology can prove to be useful, for example detecting water leaks in piping, or helping police monitor for high traffic areas for unusual activity and crime.
However, while these technologies are beneficial, they do still remain in silos — an area that blockchain technology can help tackle.
Simply put, blockchain is distributed ledger technology. This type of tech uses individual nodes to record, share and synchronize transactions in their own ledgers, meaning that there is no central location for the information. The underlying benefit here is that blockchain technology makes it nearly impossible to record fake transactions.
It’s this inherent security within the blockchain system that can have a major impact on how smart cities develop, specifically in two areas — citywide Internet of Things and personal identification.
Scaling Internet of Things and Blockchain for the Smart City
Internet of Things, or IoT, is the technology of digital interconnectivity. In the home, this means that your new IoT capable fridge can recognise that you’ve run out of eggs and milk, notify you of this situation, and order a new batch directly through your Amazon Prime account.
This technology may seem unnecessary or extravagant, but when scaled up and applied to something as complex as an urban area, the opportunities for incredible innovation are endless.
If we take the example of the singular smart traffic stop from before and then interconnect all of the traffic stops into one platform, we now have a system capable of managing the traffic flow of the entire city. This can make traveling less stressful for residents and can even execute difficult tasks such as clearing roads so that ambulances or police can travel quickly through certain areas to reach the site of an accident.
Where blockchain comes into this scenario is with its security capabilities. Security is paramount and without it, hackers would be able to access these systems in order to cause accidents, or leverage it for even more sinister applications. For example, the interconnected traffic system, which can create life saving opportunities for ambulances — creating free lanes and setting up road blocks — could be leveraged by criminals the same way to create easy getaways. Blockchain technology has the ability to prevent such scenarios from happening.
Secure Personal Identification
Traffic management is not the only area that IoT can be implemented across. With these technologies, the true opportunity lies within implementing that interconnectivity across many different ecosystems, from government administration to banking. The magic starts when you introduce a system that gives each city resident a personal identification issued by the government that then allows the individual to access this new interconnected system.
With blockchain’s open ledger and smart contracts implemented into this system, people now have a secure way of proving their identity while increasing security against identity theft. Residents now have the ability to easily access the wide array of government, professional and private services — such as applying for bank loans, property management, taking public transport, online shopping or submitting taxes — instantly, securely and with incredible ease.
This secure identity system can easily work with the real estate industry for important legal documents that are often required. Agreements and contracts can be digitised and secured with blockchain technology for quick, safe and easy transfers that will add a level of transparency to the whole process. And this is not just theoretical — Averspace, a platform based in Singapore, is already connecting property buyers and sellers with blockchain tech supporting the brokering of sales using digital contracts and enabling homeowners and tenants to use smartphones to secure digital tenancy agreements.
Smart cities and blockchain are both evolving at a rapid pace, and it is not by accident. Both have the ability to vastly change the lives of tomorrow, and working in conjunction with each other, they have the ability to drive this change much faster and much more safely than ever before.