Smart Cities Straight Ahead

Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and 5G. It’s coming. In fact, it’s already here.

Cities are getting smarter in this Digital Age in which we live. More and more devices are connected to the internet, which connects the globe. Cities are being digitally transformed with goals of improving the environmental, financial, and social aspects of urban life. Smart cities are expected to utilize “Internet of Things” (IoT) sensors, actuators, and technology to connect the various components. There continues to be a mass migration to the city life, not too dissimilar to the Industrial Revolution days of two centuries ago. Research by McKinsey suggests the smart city industry will be a $400 Billion market next year, with 600 cities around the globe expected to generate 60% of the world’s GDP by 2025. $135 Billion is expected to be invested next year alone. That’s a really big number. It’s bringing autonomous vehicles, connected traffic lights, coordinated public transportation, improved waste management, early warning emergency and disaster response and smart grids, among other things. There’s going to be an app for pretty much everything. No surprise, San Francisco is leading the pack in the United States. Barcelona and Amsterdam were first movers in Europe. Silicon Valley is focused here. You better believe, China is too.

5G networks will be able to track all of these connected devices with greater precision. Privacy has been a big issue in this Digital Age, and it’s only going to increase. People seem to know it and be ok with it when they’re online. It’s going to take some getting used to in the outside world. That will certainly assist first responders. 5G networks are expected to be much more secure. But those with access will know a lot more about us.

Some retailers have begun using sensors and embedded cameras on shelves to track consumer behavior. These devices will notice when a shopper picks up a product and track how often it is put back before purchase. Retailers will be able to study customer behavior and determine how best to merchandise products in the future. Results will likely lead to pricing adjustments, with higher demand items seeing price increases, while those slower to move items will receive price cuts. The great efficiency of supply/demand is getting more efficient in the Digital Age. Consumer product companies will likely want to participate in these studies so they can increase sales and better understand their customers. It’s big money. This could give the brick and mortar stores an advantage for once against Amazon and other online retailers. Kate Spade and Sunglass Hut are reportedly among the early participants in this type of trial. The 5G rollout, which will connect millions of more devices at substantially faster speeds, will likely see this type of activity skyrocket.

While 5G will be the focus in the modernized world, it’s still a 4G and in some cases, a 3G world in Africa. Cost is a big issue. The African continent has progressed significantly of late, with the number of smartphones in existence having doubled in the last three years. Demographics are a major force of growth. When you consider that nearly half of the one Billion-plus population of Sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 15, you can see the opportunity ahead for the wireless rollout and connectivity. As Planet Earth continues to modernize, people are migrating to big city life. By 2050, 60% of the world population is expected to live in cities.

Technology permeates home life now, and this trend will continue to expand at a rapid rate. What might the future look like in 2050? Robots will likely be commonplace in our homes. There are an estimated 60 Million robots in circulation today. That number could reach nearly 10 Billion three decades from now, outnumbering the human population. Ovens and microwaves might communicate directly with food packaging to get cooking instructions, as well as displaying augmented reality cooking guides for people to follow. Drones might do the vacuuming and dusting. Central heating might become a thing of the past, with “smart heating”, in the form of directed infrared beams to heat the people, not the room. There are some wild predictions out there suggesting people will be eating food from 3D printers, which could put an end to grocery stores. Some futurists predict that before long, humans will no longer need to read or watch to learn. In this case, people will hook their brains up to external machines to boost intelligence, improve memory and sensory capacity. It blows my mind just thinking about this.

These are clearly long, long term themes. But the future is now, and it’s all very investable.

Have a nice weekend. We’ll be back, dark and early on Monday.


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