The idea of “smart cities” has been around even longer people have been using “smart” as a synonym for “connected.” All through popular media, the “grid” is becoming aware of its residents, helping them get to work faster, safer, and less stressfully. Sure, there are those inconvenient robot uprisings and security exploits, but those are all just plot points, right?
We had better hope so, because Birmingham, IBM, and UAB’s Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center are working to connect us to our infrastructure in ways that sound like something out of a sci-fi book. In the plans are fiber internet, networked traffic lights, and intelligently adaptive buildings. Could this mean no more waiting at red lights when traffic is clear? We hope so.
Critical to this evolution is the ability to share data across departments on demand. Without data, very few of the planned improvements will be effective. Fortunately, Birmingham is already ahead of the curve in the best way. Traffic data is freely available now, and Alabama Department of Transportaion (ALDOT) has begun hosting a publicly available traffic counter system on its website. Open-sourcing this data allows anyone with an internet connection to look for patterns and make suggestions. Did you know that our city buses have had public wi-fi for months now, sailing past other cities’ bus systems?
While it will take a lot of research, a lot of data collection, and a lot of work to see the most visible components of our smarter city come to fruition, step by step, Birmingham is already making progress.