From their inception, cities have been orchestrators of systems. Systems to host people, to produce, distribute and barter goods, to manage and get rid of waste, to provide services (health care, transportation, power/energy, entertainment,…).
As time went by, each of those systems became more performant and smart. An acceleration in their evolution started in the XIX century (with first signs visible in the XVIII century at the dawn of the industrial revolution). In the last decades computerization further accelerated the evolution towards smarter and autonomus systems. It is in these last decades that the issue of overall monitoring and control has come to the fore.
Already today many cities are a clustering of autonomous sytems, often under different management domains, partly public and partly private. This is a rapidly growing trend. Autonomous transportation is a reality in several cities, and spreading, but there is very little interaction among them and other autonomous systems in the city. As an example the frequency of “trains” is pre-planned, it is not a dynamic response of the transportation system that, becoming aware of the crowd waiting at the platforms, increases the frequency. Nor is the transportation system signaling its capacity to the outside world to direct people to use that transportation system. There is not, to my knowledge, dynamic route design, to cope with specific increase of demand in certain areas because of events or other factors. All of this needs to be planned in advance.
The advent of autonomous vehicles (self driving trucks, robots, drones, cars) will further reshape the city landscape. These autonomous systems can be orchestrated or, better, can self orchestrate themselves to achieve the overall goal of a smarter city. The technical challenges are huge, but technology progress is also “huge”.
New design, and control approaches are needed. Involvement of municipalities to define the deployment roadmaps and the constrains is essential. Economic sustainability and share of value are also fundamental aspects. The trend towards a interplay of public and private investment further complicate the overall architecture of autonomus systems in a city.
The smart city becomes a living, ever changing, organism (of which citizens are not just “inhabitants and users” of its services but an autonomous system on their own). This is a perfect example of symbiotic autonomous systems, with various hierarchies and interactions, diversity of goals and cooperation needs plus competition forces.