• smart cities
  • IoT
  • Air Quality Monitoring
  • Urban Innovation

Smart Cities in Three Dimensions

Grant Samms
Apr 21, 2020

Connected City 8

As communities around the world leap into the era of smart cities, they are developing new perspectives on urban space. As goals of improving air quality, deploying 5G, and implementing green rooftops advance, cities are considering three-dimensional aspects to ensure success. To face these challenges, cities are relying on new technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and advanced computer models to answer the complex questions about how to reimagine urban spaces.

The Ever Shifting, Three-Dimensional Air Quality Puzzle

An upcoming report from Guidehouse Insights on air quality monitoring discusses the difficulty many cities are facing in accurately measuring, reporting, and acting on air quality information. Historically, cities have reported data from only one geographic point as the daily air quality across town. Since air quality can vary significantly over just a few hundred meters, this single-point measure has limited use. With the advent of less expensive IoT air quality monitors, cites are now able to sense pollution levels at many more locations, which allows officials to focus on problem areas and tailor solutions.

But air quality doesn’t just differ across horizontal space. Variances in vertical concentrations of pollutants can be just as dramatic. How airborne pollutants spread through a city’s three-dimensional space depends on the sources of pollution, the shape of buildings, airflow through open spaces, and prevailing wind direction. To better understand these factors, air quality data company AirSensa deployed six sensors across four faces of a building in London that sits along a major commuting road. The company found that levels of pollutants on the side of the building away from the road were significantly lower than those facing the road, even though the sensors were sitting at the same height. Knowing the pollutant levels at any three-dimensional point in a city represents a challenge of fluid dynamics for cities, companies, and researchers.

Other Three-Dimensional Puzzles for Cities

Air quality isn’t the only three-dimensional puzzle that cities have to deal with. The realities of millimeter wavelength signals mean that cities and telecoms will have to pay more attention to vertical space as they build out 5G networks. 5G signals aren’t ideal for traversing through objects like buildings. Due to the nature of building and antenna placement, cities could find odd dead zones hundreds of feet in the air. Additionally, since the tallest occupied floor of many of the world’s skyscrapers extends above the 300 m range of a 5G cell, many of our tallest structures will need additional cells located at their apex.

As more smart cities work to improve urban sustainability, the mapping of available roof space for solar energy, greenery, or urban gardening is revealing another three-dimensional issue. The height and shape of buildings affects how solar resources on rooftops of nearby structures can be utilized. These conditions will vary depending on weather and time of year.

Cities are making use of new available tools to face these challenges. Simply deploying IoT sensors means more data can be collected in more locations while advancing computer models can better predict the dispersion of airborne pollutants. Additionally, computer models might help predict 5G holes and model the best use of rooves. Cities are also using digital twins to understand their current reality and predict the outcome of changes before committing to policy. The market for these digital tools will continue to grow as smart cities advance and digitization becomes the new municipal norm.