Cities are getting bigger and becoming more crowded. The United Nations predicts that, by 2050, the world’s urban population will reach more than 6.3 billion – up from 3.6 billion in 2010. The impact of this increase will become evident on multiple levels, with the drain on food, energy and resources, causing additional strain on the economy.

Looking at the UK alone, the UN estimates that in 2050 just under 65 million people (out of a total predicted population of almost 75 million) will be living in urban areas– up more than 14 million from 2010.

With Wi-Fi connectivity growing and sensors becoming more sophisticated, the Internet of Things (IoT) will become our lifeline if we are to maintain and improve our current lifestyles. Inevitably, we will see the rise of the smart cities of the future – and that’s a good thing.Here are seven of the areas in which this is likely to happen:

1. Transport and parking

With the use of sensors, drivers will be alerted when parking spaces are near, so they don’t have to waste time driving around, creating pollution and congestion. The data collected from these sensors can be used to inform road-building projects, increasing productivity and decreasing cost.

With ever more traffic on roads, commuters and other drivers are spending longer in jams. Cities are looking at ways of improving flow. In Cambridge, traffic planners are planning to use scanners to detect buses and give them priority over other vehicles, encouraging more use of public transport. More generally, sensors mounted at junctions can log traffic flow centrally and adjust the cycle of traffic lights in real time across cities.

Improved connectivity will also allow more car-sharing, reducing the number of personally owned vehicles in urban areas. Greater connectivity provided by IoT means companies will be able to better coordinate where to place cars at any time. A project at Imperial College London is looking into providing real-time insurance, adjusted to the situation at the time of use, with car-sharing one of the areas this could apply to.

Likewise, bike-sharing schemes, which are currently common in Chinese cities, will also expand across the globe – in fact they have already arrived in the UK and are growing in popularity.
Bus passengers will also be able to “check in” at stops, letting operators know they are waiting for a service.

2. Waste collection

Do bins need emptying when they’re not full? Probably not. Currently, waste collection is dealt with on a regular basis, irrespective of need, and perhaps quite inefficiently. With the use of sensors, bins will show how full they are, allowing councils and waste contractors to collect only when necessary.

3. Lighting

Sensors have long been used in homes to switch off lights when no one is around. But street lights tend to stay illuminated at night, even if no vehicles or people are on the road or pavements. This wastes energy and causes unnecessary light pollution that can easily be avoided with the use of technology and IoT.

The development of better, more responsive cameras means lights can switch off at quiet times, but re-illuminate in time for vehicles or people passing by. This has already been pioneered by Essex and Hertfordshire county councils, and is set to expand.

Using a 30 Gigabit per second fibre broadband network and a £12m supercomputer Bristol is already making plans for the future. A mesh Wi-Fi network and 1,500 streetlamps will create a “canopy of connectivity” providing the city with a huge amount of valuable data.

4. Water

The World Health Organisation predicts that, by 2025, half the world’s population will be living in “water-stressed areas”. Cities place huge demands on supplies so we need technology to save the day. The IoT allows for better measurement of usage, detection of leaks and quality checks – so that less is wasted and everyone can have access to good drinking water.

5. Safety and security

Although there are always issues of privacy around surveillance, there is no doubt that the IoT will benefit police forces.

Sensors will allow police to monitor where anti-social behavior is most prevalent. For instance, areas outside noisy bars where violent incidents are known to take place could be better controlled. Sensors would pick up sounds like shouting or the sound of bottle breaking, and create alerts.

Hit-and-run accidents will also become easier to investigate via sensors on cars and streetlights. Smart door locks and camera systems will make burglaries easier to detect, and potentially deter criminals from even attempting to break-in.

6. Healthcare

The UK government predicts the number of over-60s in the population will rise to 21.9 million by 2039 – up from 14.9 million in 2014.

The IoT will enable aspects of healthcare that are currently carried out by trained staff to become automated. For example, ingestible sensors can inform doctors whether their patients are taking prescribed medication. And smart watches could be used to monitor depression levels in real time.

Manchester’s City Verve project uses the IoT to set citizens challenges – such as walking a prescribed number of steps – in an effort to improve fitness and wellbeing, but also to tackle costly chronic conditions.

7. Air quality

The number of cars on the road has a direct impact on the quality of the air we breathe. In a smart city scenario, sensors will provide real-time, localised air-pollution monitoring, to allow the redirection of traffic – this will reduce the number of concentrated pollution in one single area.

In an effort to solve London’s pollution problems, Plume Labs has turned to the IoT and pigeons. Sensors have been fitted on the backs of these birds to detect ozone, nitrogen dioxide and other harmful compounds wherever they fly. As a result, real-time data on pollution levels will become available, telling us a lot about the levels of certain pollutants in the environment.

To manage the large amount of data that IoT devices will collect and effectively need to be processed in real-time, edge computing development will be accelerated. Edge data centres, smaller and locally placed, will either collect data or process latency-sensitive tasks which are then pushed to a a core London data centre. This allows, essentially, instantaneous responses between devices while also benefiting from the computing power and storage capabilities of larger-scale data centres.