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VERGE SF 2013: What's dumbing down smart cities?

<p>Machine-to-machine technologies can make cities wildly efficient and effective, but plenty of barriers stand in the way.</p>

Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology is such a massive concept that its full potential can be barely fully imagined or realized until it's in place.

M2M technology is all about connecting sensors and devices of all types -- the basis of the Internet of Things -- in order to provide a wealth of data and communication, allowing for an endless number of results: alerts for building managers about specific pieces of equipment that need repairs, custom notifications to people when buses they plan to take are about to arrive, and other connections that are only possible when things speak to each another.

With hundreds of millions of connections among devices already, there could be some 10 billion connections among sensors and devices in cities and homes within the next eight years, said Machina Research director Matt Hatton at a VERGE SF panel Wednesday on "How Cities Harness M2M for Buildings."

Building intelligence

One of the smartest cities in the world, Hatton said, is Songdo, South Korea, a city near Seoul that was built from the ground up with smart tech in mind. The city has sensors that monitor traffic, energy and all other factors like temperatures in different areas.

There is no shortage of other smart city efforts around the world.

Siemens is at work on a smart city in a district in Vienna, with plans to build the area into a city with 20,000 residents and infused with technology that detects energy faults and notices inefficiencies in consumption.

IBM, meanwhile, is working with Montpellier, France, on that city's smart city project, which intends to make all real-time data about public transportation, water and other sectors public. The city is challenging companies to propose how to use that data effectively.

Schneider Electric is involved in 200-plus smart city projects throughout the world, and New York is developing a smart city research hub in a former transportation center in Albany.

What's in the way?

Regardless of those examples, the grand majority of buildings and cities are still "dumb," and face the big challenge of needing to have M2M technology added to them instead of being built from the ground up -- like Songdo was -- with M2M and advanced connections in mind.

Another challenge facing M2M technology is making the business case for using it. John Schulz, AT&T's director of sustainability operations, said that as M2M technology spreads, more -- and more robust -- case studies will come out and better showcase the various savings that are possible through M2M -- savings not only in terms of cost, but energy use, water use and employee time.

Another concern that exists and will continue to exist is security. Companies, cities and people will have a lot of data being sent around, and they'll want to make sure its secure - unless, of course, they intend to have it be open and out there for anyone to see and use.

Yet another issue that will need to be addressed, said Machina's Hatton, is making sure that M2M applications are connected.

Right now, Machina is seeing individual M2M uses being put in place for singular purposes -- monitoring parking meters, controlling traffic lights -- without connecting those purposes to each other, Hatton said.

Putting each M2M application in it's own silo misses out on further potential applications that could be created by others stitching different data together.

Image of highrise by Peshkova via Shutterstock

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