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Are we really ready for the smart cities?

Smart Cities are one of the areas of application of a term that in recent times we hear mentioned even more often: The Internet of Things. What is it about?

The Internet of Things (Iot) is a new paradigm in which the virtual world of information and communications technology is tightly integrated with the real world of things. It has been defined as an infrastructure of global and dynamic networks with auto-configuration ability based on standardized communication protocols, where physical and virtual objects use an intelligent interface to allow communication and complete integration into the telecommunication network.

IoT is taking on an increasingly important role and it is believed that by 2025 many everyday objects will become internet hubs, from domestic appliances to paper documents.

This step is seen as the natural consequence of the development of the internet and the success of smartphones.   In this sense, the level of digital learning has also given the everyday objects a new value and outlook.  The objects will become any type of electronic device: places such as houses, squares or clothes are equipped with a “tag”, through which it is possible to mark a virtual map of the real world and put all its elements into communication.

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A number of different applications of the Internet of Things have been seen in energy conservation.   The so-called Smart grids, for example, make it possible to manage the energy distribution in a more flexible and dynamic way, by taking into account the environmental aspect as well as the contribution of renewable sources.

Therefore, starting from simple sensors of intelligent controls for the daily use or energy control, it begins to develop a large system in which all the actors and variables communicate with each other, exchange data, improve the quality of the users’ lives and the whole community through an integrated system known as Smart City.

In the concept of Smart Cities, the city is viewed as an engine of innovation, the best institutional partner to combine aspects of economic development and environmental protection with the involvement of citizens.  This represents the true innovation, in which humans are involved in a completely new way to control their activities. 

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First of all the necessary condition is a valid and well functioning infrastructure network combined with the use of the new digital technologies, so the smart cities could become some fundamental nodes to transfer, collect information and provide services to citizens.

But the functioning and competitiveness of the smart cities do not solely depend on their material infrastructure but also, and always more importantly, the availability and the quality of the infrastructure dedicated to the communication and social participation.

Speaking of social participation, it doesn’t stop at the concept of technological and digital city, but to a more forward-looking vision in which the key role is the engagement of citizens.   The participation and involvement of citizens, are, in fact, fundamental because the smart city is built in the territory, where the special problems and demands must find flexible and complete answers in the urban context with constant evolution.

The institutional interventions are in the economic term that there are many on-going projects, but we are still in an embryonic stage, especially in Italy where the first thing we should do is to reduce the Digital Divide (still very large, compared to other countries). Only after that, it will be possible to involve all the other actors in an active and mindful way.   If this first objective is not handled, all the efforts that have already been done would be in vain and would not find an adequate answer and, above all, the awareness of citizens.  

Furthermore, all the systems must go through a peer passage with the scientific research for the management of the communication structure that will ask for the exchange of data on the most frequent demand and prevention of the breach of privacy and overload of wireless signals. 

Will we then be able to manage the so-called Big Data, or all those data collected on the habits, uses and movements of city residents?   Sensitive information would not be limited just to smartphones and tablets but would be everywhere, with an increase to the nth degree of the traffic of private data on the network.  The more personal items are connected to the network, the greater the possibility to hack into the system and obtain personal data.

The issue of the systems’ vulnerability will have to be addressed and the companies will have to ensure the maximum efficiency of the objects, the channels of communication, the reliability of the platforms holding sensitive data and to focus on developing systems that can thwart intrusive actions and ensure users’ privacy.

All of these components, we believe, will provide the balance for the success or failure of this model.

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