May 7, 2020   |   Updated: May 8, 2020

By tapping into the benefits of various sensor and artificial intelligence technologies, smart cities are using model simulation, spread prediction models and city management strategies to monitor and understand how to keep citizens safe during the COVID-19 crisis.

“In general, smart cities should focus on the sustainability, resiliency, safety and inclusion provided by their deployed solutions,” says IEEE Member Dalton Valadares. “These solutions can now be used to help in the prevention, control and prediction activities related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

IEEE Member Xun Luo explains that in order for city officials to make informed decisions on civic management, smart city technologies practice either passive or active monitoring approaches.

“The passive approach uses pervasively deployed sensors in city blocks and road networks to provide rich information about vehicle and pedestrian traffic,” says Luo. Other examples of passive sensors include surveillance cameras, RFID readers and underground magnets.

Valadares explains that using sensors and actuators for services like water and traffic management means monitoring work can be done remotely while we practice social distancing, and humans only need to take action when a service must be performed. For example, a sensor can send an alert when a road needs a human being physically present for cleaning or repair.

In contrast, Luo explains that active approaches depend upon vehicles or people to report their information voluntarily. Transponders installed on cars periodically sending information through a vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) network help cities understand traffic flows and how many people are still traveling during this time. People can also opt-in to use crowd-sourced applications to help researchers track the infection rate.

See also Halting COVID-19: The Benefits and Risks of Digital Contact Tracing

Valadares says that smart cities benefit from citizen involvement because that information helps improve processes. “Smart city platforms benefit from these prediction tasks by using data analysis techniques and providing estimations to improve resource management and decision making,” says Valadares.

By using technology to monitor our cities, we are collecting valuable data to help keep them clean, functioning and safe for all citizens while we stay home.

“The idea is actually not to eliminate human interaction in operating cities, but largely improve operating efficiency and decision efficacy,” says Luo.

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