Governments across the globe are experimenting with the concept of smart cities. Smart cities make use of big data and the internet of things to manage everything from waste collection, electricity production, public transport to the policing of our cities. Currently these systems are being tested in Dubai and some cities in the US and China.
One estimate by McKinsey analysts (a global management consulting firm) suggests that by 2020 the number of smart cities will exceed 600 globally. That by 2025 60% of the world’s GDP will be generated by them. Digital technologies will drive the engines of economic progress and blockchain is likely to be at the heart of interconnecting these currently disparate systems.
The smart cities of tomorrow are already starting to be built and blockchain technologies role in the future goes well beyond mere cryptocurrency and payment services. It is likely fleets of unmanned cars will communicate with trains and airspace controllers. Let’s look at where the most progressive cities technologically, have got on their journey into the realms of blockchain based smart cities.
United Arab Emirates
Dubai is one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world. Having risen from relative obscurity in the 1960s (when oil was discovered). To an urban metropolis with the world’s tallest building, it has conducted trials with unmanned flying taxis, automated trains and driverless cars. In many ways it is a sci-fi fans dream. Dubai is not resting on its laurels and there are active moves being made by the authorities of the UAE to turn the city into a blockchain megapolis by 2020.
Dubai’s position as holding the smart city crown is part in thanks to the government supported Smart City program. The program launched in 2014 involves the implementation of more than 545 projects designed to change the way both residents and tourists alike live and interact with the city. The local authorities are attempting to streamline the management of the city using technology. They aim to be completely paperless, making all documents in circulation electronic.
They are developing a system to track, ship and deliver imported and exported goods via blockchain. They intend to create a single, secure and transparent platform. It is hoped that the implementation of this system will save over $1.5 billion US dollars.
Blockchain solutions are also going to be applied in logistics and storage. They plan to have an entire network of unmanned trucks for the transport or production of materials.
Estonia was one of the first countries to implement blockchain based government solutions. This was as a direct result of a 2007 cyber-attack where at one point almost all of the states government services and websites went offline after a particularly powerful DDoS attack. They decided to implement a series of distributed ledgers even before Satoshi Nakamoto had produced his world changing white paper.
Estonia now uses them in their national health, judicial, commercial, legislative and security systems.
China is planning to create or convert 1000 smart cities. In January 2013 the Ministry of Housing and Urban Rural Development formally announced the list of cities to be involved in smart city pilot schemes.
Yinchuan is the first city on this list. They have already abandoned traditional payment systems. Rather than having tickets, passes etc it is enough to merely show your face to get access to a range of public services.
China’s downer on cryptocurrency does not extend to blockchain. They are actively embracing the technology. Their five-year plan for National Informatization in December 2016 stated:
“The Internet, cloud computing, large data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain… will drive the evolution of everything — digital, network and intelligent services will be everywhere.”
The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has revealed that a Chinese national stand plan for blockchain has been decided and is known to include standards on data security, business and application standards with consideration of credibility and interoperability standards.
It is expected that each government office will be a node in the national blockchain. Each verifying and validating each other’s data. It is not yet known when the project will move forward to the implementations stage.
Delaware announced the Delaware Blockchain Initiative in 2016. It is intended to implement blockchain and smart contract technologies in both the private and public sector. They have recognised information stored in blockchain as verifiable data. However, since a change in administration the new governor has shown more caution than the previous.
Illinois has announced their own blockchain initiative which is intended to transform the delivery of public and private services and redefine the relationship between government and citizen.
West Virginia is also launching a blockchain based voting system in their regional elections.
New York is developing its own microgrid project to allow households to buy and sell electricity produced by solar panels.
RWE a German energy company is working on an Ethereum based system of charging stations for electric vehicles. They intend to let drivers control the charging process using a special application. A blockchain register will be used to calculate the energy spent, make payments and identify users. There is talk of taking advantage of charging on the fly – where a car can be charged whilst travelling.
In Australia authorities have provided $8 million US dollars for a blockchain project designed to make smart utilities.
Looking to The Future
Big cities never stop, they are almost like living beings, they need food, they produce waste and they grow or shrink over time. As the internet of things combines with artificial intelligence and blockchain make their mark on our urban infrastructure cities as we know them are likely to change beyond recognition.
The benefits to mankind will be huge and it is quite possible that we will see cities grow to never before seen sizes of 100 million residents plus. All working together in harmony. With an end to pollution, traffic jams and seamless interaction between all public services and private businesses.