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Smart City Research and Innovation Trends for 2023

FinEst Centre of Smart Cities | Trends 2023

Talking about trends, we can’t oversee the AI-based chatbot ChatGPT launched in November 2022. We’ve seen it creating some interesting content in seconds, so why not ask what kind of predictions the AI gives for 2023 in the field of smart cities and research.

To make it more fascinating and analyze it in the context of our own research and examples, we asked Kalle Toiskallio, Research Coordinator of FinEst Twins project (supporting the FinEst Centre) in Aalto University, to challenge the AI-generated response.

Using this principle, we shifted from researching somewhat mainstream and naive keywords “smart city and research trends for 2023” to pinpointing our focus and emphasizing the most important aspects: How are these answers relevant for people and in which form they would be implemented in reality? Here's what we found. 

In 2023, some of the key research trends in smart cities include:

​1. Development of 5G networks to support the growth of IoT devices and applications.

The deployment of 5G networks will enable faster and more reliable communication between devices, allowing for more efficient and effective smart city services. 5G networks can be used to provide faster internet speeds and greater capacity for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, allowing for more efficient and accurate data collection.


The integration of IoT technology in smart cities will enable the creation of smart infrastructure, including smart lighting, smart parking, and smart transport systems. Smart city technologies such as surveillance cameras, emergency response systems, and crime prediction algorithms can help to improve public safety by identifying and responding to potential threats more quickly and efficiently.


To bring an example from the FinEst Centre’s perspective, we are investing into 5G network at TalTech’s campus, and developing a research and innovation proposal with Nokia, Aalto University, VTT and other European partners on connecting 5G with smart city testbeds with a focus on mobility.


​2. Use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve city services and decision making.

AI and machine learning will be used to analyze data and make predictions, enabling cities to optimize resource usage and improve decision-making. Those predictions and decisions can improve city services and infrastructure. Smart transport systems can be used to improve traffic flow, reduce congestion, and increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.


Smart cities technologies such as online platforms, mobile apps, or chatbots can help increase access to services for citizens, such as paying bills, accessing government services, access to telemedicine or finding information. For example, telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, and electronic health records can help improve access to healthcare and make it more efficient.

A few good examples of these national AI services being created are Estonia’s Bürokr
att and Finnish Aurora, both vision to enable smoother access to services that citizens need and that can ease the cross-border services and bureaucracy in the future.  

3. Implementation of blockchain technology for secure and transparent data management.


Cities will use integrated data platforms to collect, analyze, and share data across various departments, allowing for better coordination and collaboration in decision-making. Smart city platforms and apps can provide citizens with better access to real-time information about city services and events, as well as allow them to report issues and request services.

Smart cities will need to focus on cyber-security to protect against potential hacking and data breaches. This will include implementing secure communication protocols and data encryption. 
In FinEst Centre we are contributing to this through two Europe-wide cyber security and mobility projects with some key cities like Barcelona and Helsinki, and companies such as Airbus, Atos etc (check IRIS project).

Self-driving car from TalTech, auvetech, FinEst Centre

4. Increased use of smart transport systems to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.

Smart transport systems, such as real-time traffic monitoring, connected vehicles, and smart traffic signals, can help to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow, making it easier for citizens to get around the city. 


Solving a problem for people living in rural areas and in need of transportation, an example from FinEst Centre’s projects - Future Mobility - aims to create an x-road of mobility solutions, where people can order on-demand first mile/last mile self-driving buses or use electric scooters to get conveniently to the bigger transport nodes, where passengers can choose between different public transport options. 

The integration of autonomous vehicles in smart cities are also predicted to improve transport efficiency, also reduce traffic congestion and accidents, and improve air quality. Automated vehicles may still work best in specific types of environments, such as motorways where there are fewer obstacles and distractions, and the traffic is more predictable. However, there are ongoing research and development efforts to make automated vehicles more capable of operating in complex urban environments, such as cities. The technology is still in development and testing phase, and it's expected that it will take some time to be widely adopted in cities.

5. Development of smart buildings and energy systems to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Smart energy systems will be used to optimize energy usage and reduce carbon emissions in cities. This will include the integration of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. Energy-efficient buildings and smart grid systems can help reduce the city's carbon footprint and improve air and water quality, which contributes to overall improved environmental sustainability.


We have three of such pilot projects ongoing in FinEst Centre, with DigiAudit aiming to improve operational energy performance and indoor climate through the digitalization of facility management in large real estate portfolios; Microgrids, providing municipalities means to solve their energy supply problems, whilst increasing the uptake of carbon-neutral energy through the simplified formation of electrical microgrids and closed electricity distribution grids; and RESTO (REnovation Strategy Tool) that aims to develop a digital platform for municipal decision-makers that would allow them to optimize required investments into their building stock.


6. Use of virtual and augmented reality to enhance the public participation in urban planning and design.


Smart cities will focus on engaging citizens in the planning and implementation of smart city initiatives, using digital platforms and citizen participation programs. Directly involving citizens to possible changes in the city environment, we have initiated a Well-being Score pilot, to bridge the gap between urban planners and residents. The well-being score can also be used as an input for solving climate challenges in the city planning. Increased well-being in the city, e.g., better human-environment relations, in turn, creates an overall spill-over effect contributing to secure and mentally, physically, socially, economically healthier city.


GreenTwins project addresses the issue of how it can be better considered in planning processes for sustainable and more democratic cities. Within the project, a dynamic layer of green infrastructure in the urban digital twins of Helsinki and Tallinn is developed, which gives citizens and non-professional stakeholders possibility to be included in the city planning processes, taking urban greenery and its effects on people into account.  


7. Focus on climate change adaptation and sustainability.


Smart cities will focus on adapting to the impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and heat waves. Sustainability will be prioritized, using green technologies, energy-efficient buildings, and sustainable transportation systems.


In Europe we have ambitious goals set and need to be met. We are partnering with NetZeroCities project, to support and lead 100 cities in European Union to achieve climate neutrality. We are also in the process of bridging the sustainability governance of Tallinn with Ukrainian cities.

Just as in real-life - the response you get highly depends on what and how you ask. What the AI smartly noted however, is that the implementation of these technologies will also depend on the measurable resources, funding, willingness of stakeholders to work together and the political will of the city. AI is not inventing anything but using the existing texts, which are typically repeating the high-level message of mostly enabling nature of smart city technologies, Toiskallio notes.

It would be interesting to ask the same questions in the beginning of 2024 and see if and how the trends and their focus shifts. However they may change, one thing we know for sure – in the center of all these novel technological developments are all of us people, whose life and environment should be changed for better as a result. 

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