Europe has always been known for its rich industrial, agricultural, and socio-economic diversity. In the last few decades, the continent has become the centre of global trade and commerce.
One of the main reasons for this staggering achievement has been the rapid technological development of its most popular cities, including London, Barcelona, Paris, Vienna, Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen, to name a few.
Even though most cities still ooze and showcase their ancient history, their governments have optimized their available resources and maximized their citizens’ welfare through continuous digital transformation in every major sector. As a result, there’s been a rapid influx of smart city technologies in the last decade to optimize public services, infrastructure, and economic growth.
Smart City Explained
According to IBM, a smart city is a city that leverages data analysis and advanced technologies to centralize information and optimize limited resource allocation, utilization, management, and conservation.
In other words, smart city governments and bodies deploy a standard framework of integrated information and communication technologies that combine to address different social, economic, and environmental challenges. Moreover, this framework enables a connected, sustainable infrastructure with the aid of Industry 4.0 technologies, such as:
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Big Data and Analytics
Application Programming Interface (API)
The Internet of Things
Industrial Automation and Smart Manufacturing
Cyber-Physical Systems, etc.
All these technologies (and more) combine to deliver connected solutions to the public, whether it’s through on-street sensors for traffic control, autonomous vehicles, or smart appliances. Essentially, these technologies collect, communicate, and exchange data that allow different sectors in Europe nations to improve their value offerings and improve their citizens’ lives.
Latest Innovations in European Cities
Smart mobility has become one of the essential requirements in the modern age. It leverages different technologies to improve urban mobility and move around different cities efficiently and cost-effectively. Popular innovations in this space include intelligent traffic management with real-time updates, autonomous vehicles, long-distance/high-speed rail, and e-scooter rentals, to name a few.
One of the most important advancements in the last decade in European cities has been the rapid digitalization of public safety and security. With the aid of big data, AI, and IoT, cities have equipped their infrastructure with advanced surveillance systems to enable real-time traffic and crime monitoring. Using these innovations, cities have become more interconnected and proactive in handling incidents.
Another major advancement in recent years has been the development and integration of more reliable, efficient, and eco-friendly energy solutions into the European market. Cities such as Munich, Lyon, Reykjavik, and Stockholm currently top the charts in terms of renewable energy usage (solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, etc.).
Moreover, many European cities have optimized energy conservation and efficiency by leveraging IoT, AI, and other technologies to improve storage, distribution, and management. For instance, many wind power plants are using augmented and virtual reality to improve visibility and manage operations.
E-governance has taken off in the last decade with the advancement of smartphones, the internet, and other digital technologies. In most European nations, it has made public services more accessible, transparent, and collaborative. Many state and local bodies utilize IoT, blockchain, and AI-enhanced solutions, such as online voting, digital passports, biometric verification, tax filing, licensing, etc.
With global populations rising sharply, there’s been an increasing need for a large-scale shift from traditional farming to more advanced food production solutions. Europe, along with the United States, currently leads the race for 4IR technology integration into farming.
In recent years, thousands of European farms have adopted IoT, robotics, data analytics, and other agri-tech solutions to increase yield, minimize losses, and accelerate production timelines. For instance, countries like Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden have enabled vertical farming and hydroponics to automate food cultivation, reduce costs, and improve food quality.
Advanced Waste Recycling and Management
Europe has always been regarded as the cleanest continent on the planet. However, as urban populations grow, waste management has become one of its most important challenges. As a result, many major urban cities and economic hotspots are adopting advanced waste management systems powered by AI, IoT, and other technologies to reduce littering and improve recycling.
For instance, cities like Prague, Iasi, and Leuven have installed intelligent smart bins powered by solar power in different hotspots to regulate garbage quantity and other patterns to improve future solutions. Similarly, Similarly, most German cities offer a bottle deposit scheme that prompts users to collect plastic bottles and cans and collect cash for depositing them in recycling machines.
European Cities and Urban Innovations in the Post-Pandemic Age
Zurich is one of the world’s most advanced cities in terms of infrastructure and connectivity. It’s powered by an IoT-based Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) that collects real-time data throughout the city so the government can continue to improve things like air quality, traffic management, waste recycling, etc.
Barcelona recently introduced Real Economy Currency (REC) as a local financial instrument during the COVID-19 pandemic to help locals and businesses make digital transactions for essential services – recycling, parking, lighting, etc. Locals can also use it to shop in participating establishments, including retail stores, restaurants, and tourism sites.
The city of Helsinki recently launched an all-inclusive mobility service that connects cars, bikes, taxis, scooters, rail, and other public transportation options into a single application called Whim. With this app, locals can find the best options to move from A to B seamlessly.
Spain is rapidly becoming the epicenter for smart European destinations. Santander, one of the country’s most vibrant destinations, recently launched the Santander City App to help citizens and tourists enjoy the city’s facilities with real-time information and payment methods. The app gathers data from city-wide IoT sensors and helps users improve their social experiences.
Austria’s capital has been making headlines in the European Union due to rapid digital transformation in different sectors. In the last decade, it has established a Smart City Framework to improve Vienna’s infrastructure and quality of life while maintaining its traditional roots and stunning architecture.
For instance, almost 50% of homes and businesses are powered by renewable energies. Moreover, it has partnered with several local and international bodies to digitize education, healthcare, and other major sectors. As of 2022, it houses nearly 10% of smart city projects in the European Union.
With Europe’s urban and rural population expected to rise to 450 million by 2026, there’s a growing need to improve the management of resources for socio-economic and environmental sustainability. The long-term
effects of the pandemic, combined with the global economic crisis and political tensions, continue to drive large-scale infrastructure and policy changes in most European nations.
Overall, more cities are understanding the importance of integrating the latest smart city technologies into their infrastructures and transforming every major sector. By understanding what major cities are doing, they can drive data-driven innovation and identify new opportunities for transformation.
The core idea of a smart city has always been simple – to enable citizens, businesses, and authorities to collaborate and use smart technologies to manage limited resources in the evolving landscape. A solid, smart framework is key to providing an environment that improves the overall quality of life for residents while maximizing economic growth.
Marc-Roger Gagné MAPP