Technology plays an ever-increasing role in our lives—from the smartphones we carry around in our pockets to the accelerating complexity of even the most mundane technology. The next step is to integrate these disparate developments and work toward the idea of the “Smart City.” In 2015, the term “Smart City” is still somewhat nebulous in that many different technologies and ideas are lumped under the same banner and, indeed, some technologies and ideas have been around for decades.

Chicago is a good example of a city on its way to automating and becoming one of America’s leading Smart Cities. The first step to this requires making use of “big data,” which is comprised of the huge datasets that have been collected over the years on a marvelous range of subjects—from the big stuff like climate and crime to the boring and banal but still incredibly useful. Chicago has, via its city website, made over 600 of these datasets available on an open-access basis to anyone that wants them.

Chicago on it's way to becoming a Smart City?

Chicago on it’s way to becoming a Smart City?

There are over two dozen registered developers working with these datasets and potentially many more unregistered individuals. Furthermore, all of this information is being supplied for remarkably little money. It costs just $50,000 per year to provide this data and as more developers and organizations get involved the benefits start to amass. How do you predict where these savings or innovations are going to come from?

Knowledge of where the efficiency savings and development from this data is going to come from sometimes feels rather esoteric and arcane, though this can simply be attributed to the shock at the sheer volume of data. By running simultaneous datasets you can see that answers can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Case in point, a program developed by Chicago took in data from 31 of these datasets, including the location of overflowing trash cans, weather patterns, and where in the city vacant buildings were. The result was a prediction of where rat nests would appear in the city throughout the course of the year, thus enabling city officials to proactively eliminate the problem. This simple act led to a 20% cost saving due to increased efficiency.

Public transportation has benefited too, with the idea of “smart buses” traveling along semi-fixed routes gaining some traction in several cities worldwide. With this innovation, smartphones and P2P networking can use algorithms to determine the most convenient and fastest routes for the majority of customers on the fly. Instead of relying on an entirely fixed route, you could “call the bus” to your nearest stop and have it drop you off at the closest stop to your destination.

This data and increasingly, real-time data, will lead to cost savings in time, energy, and consumption if used in the right way. As energy use is decreased and our interactions with a city’s infrastructure are streamlined, CO2 emissions will also be cut down, thereby helping to mitigate the future damage caused by climate change and allowing our cities to continue to grow.

by Adam Faust, Deep Blue Financial Founder