If you think your city is crowded now, just wait.

The United Nations believes that in 2050, there will be 9.6 billion people on the planet, and more than 66% of them will live in urban areas.

That kind of population growth will put huge pressure on metropolitan areas to manage resources efficiently and supply their citizens with what they need to thrive and survive - which is why our cities must get smarter.

Here are 7 facts about how smart cities are using machine-to-machine (M2M) technology to build better environments for their residents.

1. Smart cities harness the mountain of digital data we generate 24 hours a day.

The idea is that a combination of structured data (such as the databases of names, ages, and addresses that municipal and health authorities possess) and unstructured data (the information coming from machines hooked up to the Internet of Things) will tell cities who is using what services, how and when.

Properly analyzed, all that information - usually referred to as "big data" - could improve everything from traffic flow and refuse collection to healthcare services, because resources would be directed to where they're most useful.

2. Smart cities collect data on things like energy consumption, traffic flows, and even public Wi-Fi usage.

Many people are also asked to provide personal details when they interact with local municipal agencies.

It all helps build a picture of pressure points and inefficiencies, which provides a starting point for smoothing out these wrinkles and creating a better, more sustainable quality of life.

3. Some cities are using IoT devices to monitor the environmental impact of cities by collecting details about sewers, air quality, and garbage.

One example is the US Geological Survey Advanced National Seismic System, which uses accelerometers and real-time data analysis to monitor the structural health of buildings in earthquake-prone regions.

And GMT, a global waste management company, has launched an app in the Netherlands and elsewhere that uses GPS to help waste trucks avoid traffic jams, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) to sense the weight of trash cans so they are only collected when full.

4. One success of city data collection is smart meters that communicate our power consumption to utility companies.

While this has thrown up a security issue in that a hacker could compromise a meter to find out about a homeowner's peaks of use and learn when they are likely to be out, municipal authorities, their agencies, and private companies are guarding against security breaches.

5. Many countries must secure personal data by which any living person can be identified.

EU data protection regulation will standardize expected protection levels and increase fines for compliance failures.

6. Encryption is vital to data security. 

It used to be the case that people would use perimeter protection once data had been collated," says Todd Moore, VP of Product Management for the Encryption solutions at SafeNet.

"That's not good enough now, as we know data can be stolen as it flows through systems. The answer is to protect the data itself. There are a number of ways to do that, including encryption at the point of entry, encryption for databases, encryption for files, encryption at the disk level, and also the virtual machine."

7. IBM says 90% of the world's data has been produced in just the past two years.

And that means data scientists are hard at work figuring out what it all means - and how it can be put to best use.

 

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