Urbanization is rapidly overtaking the world. Already 56% of the world's population lives in cities, and more are moving in every day. By 2050, two out of every three people will likely live in cities. But such growth of populations represents a pressing challenge. Cities must become smarter about using existing infrastructure and capacity to stay vibrant and livable. 
Several forward-thinking cities are already taking action by leveraging technology and data. As the world becomes more connected and digital, smart cities have become an essential part of the future. We will live in cities where humans and technology seamlessly interact. And here at Kontrolka, we want to keep up with this vision. We look for various ways how to contribute with our skills and knowledge. And in this article, we dive into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for this rapidly evolving field.
So what exactly are smart cities?
We see them as large ecosystems, including not just one household but whole neighborhoods where technology and data help to optimize infrastructure and services. Smart cities emerge as the result of many smart solutions across all sectors of society. Various systems, such as transportation, energy, communication, and public services, are integrated and managed.
The goal of a smart city is to create a sustainable, efficient, and resilient urban environment that can adapt to its residents. Thanks to collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data, cities can gain insights and a deep understanding of problems and needs. Targeted solutions can unlock new opportunities for economic growth, sustainability, and innovation.
Here it's also important to note that smart cities are not an isolated phenomenon. It is a result of the general transition of society towards a digital economy. All information and services are becoming available through the online channel, ranging from shopping to entertainment and beyond. Even physical products, such as books, music, and movies, transform into digital ones. This transformation has led to a significant change in the way we interact with the world around us.
That is why in Kontrolka, we believe the most important aspect of smart cities, except data and technology, is their inhabitants. Interactions between humans and technology need to be seamless, intuitive. Systems and services need to be meaningful and trustworthy to people. We know it requires careful attention to the user experience and accessibility for diverse groups of people. We are convinced that smart cities need a citizen-oriented approach to succeed. They need to enable their inhabitants to become co-creators of their neighborhoods.
Smart Mobility and Infrastructure
Now let's focus more on mobility in smart cities. The connected city allows seamless integration between different modes of transportation, such as public transport and autonomous cars, ride-sharing services, and micro-mobility options like bikes.
However, in smart cities, transportation is more than just getting from point A to point B. It focuses on minimizing congestion, reducing emissions, and making daily commutes faster and less frustrating. This includes employing technology for collecting data and data analysis to optimize traffic flow, reduce energy consumption, improve safety, and enhance public services.
By 2025, cities that deploy smart-mobility applications have the potential to cut commuting times by 15 to 20 percent on average. In a dense city with extensive transit, smart technologies could save the average commuter almost 15 minutes a day. In a developing city with more grueling commutes, the improvement might be 20 to 30 minutes every day. (...) Installing IoT sensors on existing physical infrastructure can help crews fix problems before they turn into breakdowns and delays. Real-time navigation alerts drivers to delays and helps them choose the fastest route. Smart-parking apps point them directly to available spots, eliminating time spent fruitlessly circling city blocks.
Excerpt from McKinsey's report on SMART CITIES: Digital Solutions for a more livable future (2018)
Development of Smart Cities
What are Smart Cities Today?
Despite considerable advantages, global smart city development is still in the early stages. Cities worldwide are at very different levels of development, with many urban areas without any access to smart solutions. The transformation will slowly continue as it is a highly complex challenge.
In terms of mobility in the scale of the city, it involves many stakeholder groups like city councils or service providers. The solutions are also often very city specific and, therefore, hardly replicable. What already works for one city may not work elsewhere because of the city's density, existing infrastructure, or various commuting patterns. Additionally, while many smart cities have invested in new mobility technologies, adoption rates are still relatively low as equity, accessibility, and affordability of these new services are still an issue.
Should we build new cities?
When it comes to building smart cities, one question arises is whether it wouldn’t be more efficient to build entirely new cities from scratch rather than trying to implement new technologies in old existing structures of the cities.
On the one hand, retrofitting old cities with new technologies can be daunting, as it requires overcoming significant challenges. Building a smart city from the beginning allows for more design and technology implementation flexibility. On the other hand, building new cities can be costly regarding all resources - money, time, and labor. We already have an experience from the past, when modernist architects and urban planners attempted to build new cities. Brasília in Brazil and Chandigarh in India were planned with a focus on technology and efficiency. While they had grand visions, they faced many problems connected to the forced displacement of local populations and lack of public engagement or design focused on car transportation.
Ultimately, such decisions nowadays should be made based on a thorough analysis of the needs and goals of the particular cities and the resources available.
How will look Smart Cities of tomorrow?
How will look Smart Cities of tomorrow?When overcoming today's obstacles, the smart cities of tomorrow are likely to be even more advanced. Future trends in development are likely to include the increased use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze data and optimize city services. Imagine one day you will be able to have an appointment with your dentist on the way to work. Also, wider deploying technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) will enable more seamless and efficient connectivity. However, the role of design will be more significant than ever in shaping these new technologies and services, ensuring they are intuitive, user-friendly, and accessible to all.
How can we contribute as designers?
We imagine a future where information and services are available online, and physical products are transformed into digital ones. And we see more demanding customers. They expect more than just having it online. They want to have a delightful experience that is frictionless and personalized. Every step of the process is essential for the customers to be engaged. To ensure such quality for the digital experiences, it must be designed with regard to the customers' needs and journeys. Also, by leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, interfaces, and services can be easily personalized to cater to each customer's unique needs and preferences.
Another trend tightly linked to digital products and services is the shift towards business models in which suppliers add value to services on a subscription basis. This business model represents a more stable revenue stream and provides an opportunity to continuously improve the product or service. However, to be able to provide improvements in the shape of new features or upgrades, the platforms already need to be designed with that in mind. The frameworks must provide enough flexibility to incorporate the new additions sustainably and without disrupting the customer experience.
Here at Kontrolka, we have many years of experience delivering successful products and shaping the experiences and ways we interact with technology. We advocate for user needs and incorporate our research-gained insights into our designs. We strive to create flexible and sustainable products that meet the evolving demands of our clients and their customers. With a commitment to user-focused design, we can also help drive your products' success.
Let's join forces to create more delightful experiences for our cities of tomorrow!
Kontrolka is a young team of HMI experts who strive to push user experience to its limits by developing innovative solutions for tomorrow's technology. We inspire and motivate our clients to achieve success.