The design of new materials is allowing the creation of specific characteristics that can fit needs that used to be unfulfilled or that required additional devices, objects, systems. Now with smart materials any object, in principle, can be tailored to serve its primary purpose and to double up as an interaction point. Additionally most surfaces can be used to harvest energy to generate power, as heat accumulator or dissipation points and can be used for sensing a variety of conditions.
New buildings can be designed with new materials to become self sufficient, to operate as network nodes, to monitor the surroundings. New technologies, like smart paints, can also be used to transform existing buildings, roads, utilities into smart hubs for the city.
In the figure the rendering of Paris 2050 commissioned by the Municipality of Paris to several architects firms, and based on extensive use of smart materials.
Nanotechnologies will have an impact in several areas, smart cities included.
They provide a way to design bottom up materials and objects with predefined molecular architectures. Not all molecular architectures are possible, but in Nature the raw material that we use comes in very specific architectures (some more common than others). As an example carbon comes in diamond, graphite and amorphous. Researchers have been able to create several other forms, including fullerene, nanotubes, graphene and graphine. Each of them has specific properties that can be exploited from water purification to self cleaning windows to heat dispersion, energy conversion.
The SUNY Polytechnic Institute has a College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering that is applying nanotech to Smart Cities., in a specific program of its “Smart Cities Technology Innovation Centre”.
As scientists learn more and more from Nature researchers and engineers are starting to get inspiration from Nature, bio inspired technologies, to approach a variety of problems, particularly those involving autonomous systems.
Smart Cities are aggregation of autonomous systems, citizens to start with, and all “objects” that are one way or another controlled/influenced by them, like the air conditioning or heating of buildings, the traffic of cars on the road, the shopping sprees…
Research like Red Swarms carried out at the University of Malaga are trying to mimic insects swarms behavior to solve traffic problems.
Better monitoring tools, extracting information from social networks, provide indicators that can be used by bio-inspired algorithms and approaches.
Cityscapes can also find inspiration from Nature and a number of architects are actively pursuing this field, see an example in the picture.
It has been noted that pursuing a Smart City implies reconsidering the cluster of business models that make a city tick. The changes in processes, that are induced by deployment of new technologies and the new interactions among the different players require a re-thinking of the biz models. Interestingly, also in this area we see the possibility of getting inspiration from bio systems. It is not completely surprising since “smartness”, as I will point out soon, implies a significant extension in the number and variety of players. Once these numbers grow, biz models (survival models) based on Nature Evolution in Darwinian sense become relevant.
A dedicate workshop titled Bio-inspired Biz Models for Smart Cities was held in Amsterdam in July 2015.