Smart used to be a term that was used in school to define the clever kid, but now seems to be used for anything which has a new design. From Smart cars and smart watches and even smart straps to tie things to the top of your car. (I actually saw these on Indiegogo last week!) Whereas some new products are using the word smart to try and jump on the innovation bandwagon, others actually fit more closely to the original definition, using data to connect with a number of other things to provide new services for individuals and businesses in a large range of scenarios.

This could be anything from a Smart watch connecting to devices around your home, or a smart city, in which many different data points are connected via sensors to connect the city and change the way people interact with it. The data comes from citizens, devices and assets and can be used to analyse, monitor and manage the entire city.  Transportation systems, water supply, schools, libraries, and many other city functions can be made more efficient and function more effectively when connected via the Internet of Things (IoT). But how can this help African cities?

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The IoT makes Smart Cities possible!

Cities across Africa are becoming more and more able to handle the internet of things. Many already have 4g connectivity, 3G is possible in most and 5G is even being prepared for some cities, for example in Rwanda and South Africa. Many African urban centres have been badly planned, with traffic overwhelming transport systems, many communities built without planning permission, sewage and water systems limited, and processes such as getting a passport, registering a business or even paying a fine, time consuming and difficult. And these issues could be set to be magnified, with Africa’s cities continuing to increase their population quickly.

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Low water levels at Dam in Theewaterskloof, South Africa. From EPA/Nick Botma

Rwanda is already in the place of investing in sensor connectivity in Kigali to serve the local population in areas of public safety, waste management, water, electricity and healthcare, all topics that a covered regularly on Inventive Africa. Rwanda, by all accounts, has already made leaps and bounds with regards to waste management, and is one of the cleanest countries in Africa. Optimising waste management using sensors, will make the process even better. The system could enable waste companies to know which areas to collect from more often, and even what kind of waste needs to be collected. It could help with recycling efforts and to enable citizens to live in a cleaner more organised setting.

The utilities could also be revolutionised if in built in to a smart city. Firstly, electricity could be saved with sensors turning on lights, and other amenities, only when they are needed. Electricity and water shortages are sadly not things of the past in many parts of the African continent. Parts of South Africa are currently on stringent water rations, and Cape Town citizens only have a few months of water left, unless the rains come! There is no way of combatting low rainfall, but a smart city set up could enable places like Cape Town, and the many other cities across the continent that suffer from similar water uncertainties by enabling better planning of rationing from earlier, and utilise water in industry and for individual use more efficiently, whether for drink manufacturers or watering the garden.

Traffic in Nairobi

The traffic issue is also wasting so much time and money in Africa. Even those that leave very early to work to get their on time find themselves sitting in traffic with the others that have left early. Sometimes a short journey to work can take hours and things like delivery services are impeded by long journey times. This impacts on e-commerce, delivery of fresh food types, and even on medical deliveries. (Which is one of the reasons why Rwanda started its drone delivery service) Sensors could analyse traffic patterns in real time, connecting to traffic lights and enabling them to more effectively let traffic through. But it is not only traffic lights that can work more efficiently. By understanding where the bottlenecks are, and where people are coming from and going to  at what time, there can be real time diversions, sent directly to individuals, to enable that they find the quickest way to their location, and so that not everyone is going the same way.

Our cities are evolving, and African cities are in a position to benefit in a huge way from becoming Smart. The above examples are just a small number of ways in which citizens could benefit from a Smart city. Health care, education, access to information, tourism, payments, small businesses, taxes, and even the entertainment sector can all be transformed within a smart city. This all depends on access to internet connectivity, not only for the city, but also for individuals. Data from the people is important in understanding their needs.

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