Becoming a “Smart City” is an objective of many cities today.
Smart City technology promises huge savings for city
governments while enhancing the quality of life for city residents.
Smart Cities rely on computer networks, sensors and automated control devices that enable the precise, coordinated control over all functions of a city. These functions include traffic control, dispatching, power distribution, waste management and lighting systems to name just a few.
Much has been written about the technologies behind Smart Cities. However, little has been done to give people a taste of what it might be like to actually live in an automated city. In this issue of WaveLengths Magazine we combine facts with fiction in an attempt to bring that story to life. Both of our stories address the issue of cyber security, which is of particular concern for Smart Cities given the huge size and complexity of their computer networks. The article includes some imaginative suggestions for “hardening” Smart Cities against cyber attacks. The following is not science fiction; the security issues and technologies represented are real.
Scenario 1 Tech HavenThe city of Tech Haven took the time to address key issues relating to network security before embarking upon a plan of action. City planners kept citizens in the loop during the planning process and residents were actively involved in running the city once the automated systems were in place. The result was a Smart City that lived up to its promise and expectations.
When they were single, John and Beth loved living and working in Tech Haven, a city of eight million people. They were particularly thrilled to work alongside individuals who were the best and brightest in their fields. They also enjoyed the cultural aspects of the city, including theater, museums and so forth.
When they decided to marry, John and Beth agreed that the city wasn’t a good place to raise children. The traffic and crowds made it a hassle getting around, particularly if they had to get kids to and from school every day. Crime was a big concern and air quality left a lot to be desired.
So the couple moved to a smaller community, had two children, and lived the suburban lifestyle for a number of years. Then John read an article in WaveLengths Magazine that featured Tech Haven, the same city they had left seven years earlier. Tech Haven was featured as a model “Smart City” that was renowned for its “quality of life,” namely clean air, great transit system, low crime rate, good schools and so forth.
John and Beth were intrigued at the prospect of moving back to the city. If Tech Haven is now as family friendly as it is reported to be, the city could provide a safe, stimulating environment in which their children could grow and develop.
Their son Danny was in second grade and daughter Evelin was in kindergarten. They decided to take their family on an inspection trip to Tech Haven. John would take the magazine article with him to see if the city lived up to the hype.
Stepping off the train, Tech Haven seemed less hectic and more inviting than they remembered it. Business people still scurried around doing business things, but now there were parents, children, and even infants in strollers. Apparently, the rebirth of the city meant a rebirth in the population as well.
As they walked to a nearby taxi stand, John heard a “ding.” A message appeared on his smart phone inviting him to connect to Tech Haven’s Smart City Network. He pressed “OK,” not yet realizing the significance of what he had just done.
As the family walked hand-in-hand, John commented about how quiet the city had become. There was a noticeable absence of screeching tires and honking horns and vehicles moved smoothly through the streets. With fewer cars idling in traffic, the air was cleaner as well. They caught the aroma of hot dogs from the vendor stand clear across the street. The streets were very, very clean.
The family entered a waiting taxi and buckled themselves in. There was no one behind the wheel and John assumed that the driver was taking a break nearby. John and Beth were startled when the motor started, especially when they heard the distinctive “click” of car doors being locked. “Where to?” a pleasant voice asked from a speaker somewhere. “Er, 34th and 12th streets” John said hesitantly, sounding more like a question than a command. Then they were off.
John and Beth looked nervously at the cars whizzing by. The kids seemed to take it all in stride, perhaps thinking is was like a ride at the amusement park.
John recalled that the article had mentioned something about Smart Cars but he didn’t realize these driverless vehicles were already on city streets. He noticed that the System Status light on the dashboard was lit a bright green, so apparently everything was in working order. He and Beth began to relax and marvel at the technology. “Step on it!” Danny yelled to the invisible driver. John was glad that the “Smart Car” had enough sense to ignore the command of a seven-year-old boy.
John’s smart phone dinged again. A voice from the phone announced, “You have a message from the Mayor of Tech Haven. Accept?”
Sure why not, John thought. “Yes” he replied aloud.
A mirror image of his smart phone screen appeared on a larger display within the cab. The city logo glowed briefly, then was replaced by the image of the Mayor. He was a jovial man in his mid fifties with a well trimmed beard. He held up a silver gift box tied with a bright red bow.
“Daddy, is that Santa?’ Evelin asked.
KEYS TO THE CITYHello, I’m Frank McLaughlin, Mayor of Tech Haven,” the man began. “Welcome to our fair city. Although this is a fully automated Smart City, real people, just like you and I, help to run it.”
He lifted the lid of the gift box and held up a shiny key. “This is your Smart Key, which you will receive when you check in to your hotel. The key will enable you to control many functions of the city through key slots you will find throughout our community.
“It is very important that you carry your Smart Key with you wherever you go in the city. You will discover that it is capable of wondrous things.” The mayor gave a wink and disappeared from the screen. John half expected him to touch his nose and fly up a chimney.
IT’S SHOWTIME!Because of the long train ride to the city, it was dusk when the family finally arrived at the hotel. Standing in front of the building, they saw patterns of light dancing across the building’s facade. They looked around and noticed that adjacent buildings also had the dancing lights. It made the buildings seem alive.
Suddenly, the buildings exploded with a brilliant flash of light that rippled across buildings up and down the street. In its wake appeared the image of a giant medieval castle, replete with turrets, battlements and a drawbridge. Just when John thought that he had seen it all, an armored knight on horseback came charging out from the parking garage across the street. The 40 foot image galloped across the front of the buildings, turned around, and then jumped to his side of the street. Instinctively, John pulled his family into a doorway to avoid the onrushing steed, which galloped silently past them and continued on down the block.
John recalled that the article had mentioned something about lights. He pulled the article from his pocket and located the reference. “As a Smart City, Tech Haven has precise control over its interconnected lighting system. In addition to its primary use as street lighting, the system is used to create imaginative light shows that surprise and delight.” “This place is crazy cool,” Danny said.
THE HOST IN THE MACHINEAfter their driverless ride, John told the man at the hotel desk that he was surprised to see a living, breathing person at the check-in desk. The man laughed and introduced himself as Ethan. He said he was really only a greeter, since check-in had been completed automatically within seconds of the family stepping through the door.
Ethan placed their bags on a platform, a panel opened, and their luggage disappeared. “They’ll be in your room before you get there.” Ethan turned to the children. “Well kids, what did you think of the light show? Tech Haven is like a giant magic lantern. Your wish is its command.”
Ethan handed John and Beth their room keys, and said that these Smart Keys were very special, just like the Mayor had said. “What else can the keys be used for?” John asked hopefully. Ethan replied, “I promise that all of your questions about the keys will be answered in due time. In the meantime, you can use your keys in the hotel restaurant. You must be hungry after your trip.”
John turned to Beth. “I don’t get it. People keep encouraging us to use our keys, but they don’t explain why it’s such a big deal. It’s like there’s something important about the keys that they don’t want to tell us about. At least not yet.”
A table was already waiting for them when they arrived, but neither John nor Beth recalled making reservations. “Hi, I’m Mary. I’ll be your waitress today.” The young lady handed out what seemed to be four very different menus. John noticed that his menu contained all of his favorite foods. He peeked at Beth’s menu and it listed her favorite foods as well. Same thing with the kids. Somehow the restaurant knew they were coming and also the foods that they liked. It printed custom menus for each of them, all in the time it took for the family to walk down from the lobby. The hotel, and the city at large, seemed to know everything about them.
“Maybe they got it from Facebook,” Beth offered.
Then John noticed one of the infamous key slots. It was on the wall, about four inches above their table. There was no indication of what his key would do, but John inserted it anyway. A lighted dial then appeared around the key slot along with instructions. “Turn your Smart Key to select the temperature, lighting and the music selection at your table. Pushing the key will provide additional options.”
John pushed the key and new options appeared, this time relating to service at the restaurant. His choices were Great, Good, Fair, Poor. Simple enough, John thought. He pressed it again and new words appeared. This time they seemed ominous. “Manual Override - For Emergency Use Only.” Lighted numbers, 1 thru 9, now encircled the key slot. He turned the key to different numbers but nothing happened. “This key thing keeps getting stranger,” John said.
After dinner the family walked down a dark corridor toward their hotel room. The hallway lights brightened ahead of them, guiding them to their room. After making a left turn, then a right turn, they found themselves blocked by a pair of security doors. “Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL,” John said jokingly.
To his surprise, he got a response. “Welcome John, Beth, Danny and Evelin” a voice said from somewhere. The doors slid open from the middle with a gentle “swoosh” and closed tightly behind them.
STRANGERS IN THE NIGHTArriving at their room, John inserted his Smart Key and expressed disappointment that all it did was open the door.
“What did you expect?” Beth asked.
“Hi John,” a woman said from inside the darkened room. “Well there you go,” he thought aloud.
The lights came on automatically but there was no one in the room. Except for that voice.
“Hi everyone, I’m Elaina. I’ll be your Virtual Assistant during your stay at the hotel. I see that you are scheduled to tour the Tech Haven Control Center tomorrow. If you would like to meet some of the folks who are taking the same tour, a group of them are planning to meet for cocktails in the bar downstairs. If you like, I can arrange a babysitter.”
“It’s been a long day,” Beth said.
“Well goodnight then,” the voice replied. “Just call ‘Elaina’ whenever you need me.”
“Wait,” John said, “I like to connect a name with a face. What do you look like? Or are you just a voice?” The image of a strikingly beautiful woman then materialized on the full length mirror adjacent to the closet. “Whoa!” exclaimed John’s wife.
“Sorry, is this better?” Elaina morphed into a girl-next-door look.
Beth turned to her husband, hands-on-hips. “John, I don’t know if I’m comfortable with this Virtual Assistant thing in our bedroom.”
“I understand,” Elaina said. “I will deactivate.”
John slept restlessly that night.
THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAINAfter breakfast the next morning John’s family set out for their scheduled tour of the Metropolitan Area Network. “We’re all going on the MAN Tour,” John boasted as he puffed out his chest. Beth informed him that MAN was just an acronym for Metropolitan Area Network. The tour would reveal how computers, sensors and control mechanisms are all interconnected to run a Smart City like Tech Haven.
Arriving at their destination, John nudged his wife and pointed to the sign on the building that read “MAN Center.” Beth rolled her eyes. Inside, they joined 12 other people who were waiting for the tour to begin. A young Asian woman stepped up and introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Missi,Systems Supervisor. I’m in charge of the MAN.” Beth looked at her husband and burst out laughing.
Missi gave everyone a name badge then escorted the group to the main control room. She placed her hand on an access control panel and a pair of large double doors opened wide.
“Welcome to the heart of the city,” she said with a dramatic sweep of her hand. “This is the main control room. This facility controls every aspect of the city from regulating power stations, dispatching emergency crews and even scheduling trash collection.” The auditorium size room resembled a NASA mission control facility; it was lined with giant screens that displayed charts and graphs, all of which were in constant flux. The displays were monitored by a small army of technicians who didn’t seem to have all that much to do. Apparently the “Smart City” managed itself pretty well.
FAIL SAFE PROCEDURES“The safety of our citizens is Tech Haven’s top priority,” Missi explained. “Our Smart City network is divided into many small sectors that can operate independently when necessary. We can isolate small areas of the city to prevent problems in one sector from affecting other areas of the city. We have batteries and solar panels in each in sector that can keep emergency systems running independently of the power grid.
“Under the city, we have hundreds of miles of fiber optic cable that serves as the communications backbone of our city. Optical fiber is immune to electromagnetic interference or EMI and we have installed many redundant cable pathways as a security precaution. The fiber has extremely high bandwidth capacity and is used to transport data to and from wireless systems throughout the city. Our Distributed Antenna System, or DAS, ensures that every corner of the city has good wireless coverage, even deep within buildings.
“In addition to human communications, the wireless networks support communication between devices. This is called Machine-to-Machine Communications or M2M. Every second, torrents of data are being exchanged between thousands of devices to keep our city humming along.”
PLUG ‘N’ PLAY NETWORKSMissi pointed to a wall containing hundreds of similar-looking modules, each about the size of a loaf of bread. She pointed to one module in particular. “See that blinking red light? That indicates that this module is malfunctioning. We don’t mess around with fixing things here, there just isn’t time. Instead, we use plug-and-play electronic components whenever possible.” Missi demonstrated by grabbing the handle of the module, pulling it out, and plugging in a replacement. “There are a dozen manufacturers who make electronic modules just like these. Any of them will work, which means our city is never dependent on any one company.”
Missi then walked over to a series of large metal boxes, each of which was about six feet square. A sign identified the boxes as “Faraday Cages” and Danny wondered what kind of animals were inside. In a serious voice Missi explained, “The threat of an EMP event is a big concern today, especially given the increase in sunspot activity during the current solar cycle. EMP stands for Electromagnetic Pulse. A major hit from an EMP could fry all electronic components in the city. In addition to solar storms, EMP can be caused by a terrorist weapon. To help protect the city and its residents, all replacement modules are stored in metal Faraday Cages, which provide shielding against EMP.”
CITY OF LIGHTMissi’s voice became more cheerful. “Have you noticed the thousands of LED lights used throughout the city? LED’s use very little energy and save the city a fortune in lighting costs. Plus, we use those same lights to create our famous Tech Haven Light Shows. Have you seen one of those yet?
“Yeah, a light show almost killed us,” Danny said referring to the rampaging knight.
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” Missi continued. “Those lights have another special purpose. Should the city’s computer networks go down, we can use those same LED’s to transmit and receive data. The technology is called LiFi, which stands for Light Fidelity.”
CHILD’S PLAY“When designing this system, we had one problem even our best minds couldn’t solve,” Missi said. “We wanted our system to have manual overrides at key locations throughout the city. In event of a massive system failure, we could control individual switches and devices manually.
“The problem was that there weren’t enough technicians to be in all the places where overrides would be required.” She looked at Evelin. “Believe it or not a little girl not much older than Evelin provided the answer we were looking for.”
“It happened during a facilities tour, just like this one. When I explained the problem of not having enough technicians to turn the keys, a child raised her house key. ‘Can I do it?’ she asked.
“Just like that, the problem was solved. We gave every person in the city a special key that could be used to perform a manual override anywhere in the city.
“Did each of you get your Key to the City? That’s great. In an emergency, you may receive a verbal or written request on your smart phone asking you to do a manual override using a nearby key slot. The message will tell you the sequence of numbers to which you would turn your key. Just entering the code might be enough to do the override, or you may also be asked to flip a switch or turn a control valve nearby.
Missi knelt down to Danny. “Ever dream of being a hero? In Tech Haven, you might get the chance!”
HOME AGAINStanding outside the building after the tour John and Beth compared notes. They both agreed that they felt safer in Tech Haven than they did at home. The kids also liked the city and said it would be a “super-exciting” place to live.
“So that pretty much settles it,” John said. “We are all moving to Tech Haven!”
“Yay!” the kids cheered.
Just then John’s smart phone dinged.
“It’s another message.”
Beth saw a quizzical look on John’s face.
“So, what’s it say?” she asked.
Scenario 2 RapidboroIn this version of our story, the city of Rapidboro hadn’t given Smart City technology much thought until other cities began adopting it with great fanfare. Fearing that Rapidboro would look like it was behind the times, city officials rushed to cobble together a Smart City system of their own.
In this scenario, John and Beth are considering a move to Rapidboro. However, they recently became aware of unsettling events taking place in the city. So instead of bringing his entire family to Rapidboro on an exploratory trip, John decided to go it alone.
Standing outside the train station, the first thing John noticed was that the traffic was terrible. Horns were blaring incessantly and everyone seemed to be on edge. A person called to John from a nearby cab, “If you’re going uptown, we can share a ride. It took me an hour to get this cab.”
John accepted the stranger’s offer and jumped into the cab. “What’s going on?” John asked, gesturing toward the stalled traffic. The man replied, “You’re new here? Apparently someone hacked into the traffic control system again, this time turning off traffic lights at 20 intersections. That’s more than enough to put this city into gridlock. It’s the fifth time this has happened and it gets worse every time.
“As part of its Smart Cities initiative the city installed an automated traffic control system that interconnected all traffic lights within the city. A computer tells them all when to change and it’s supposed to improve traffic flow. Well, that’s a joke. Nothing works right. It’s all computerized and no one can figure out where the problem is.
“The politicians are blaming the systems integrators and those people are blaming the component manufacturers.
When the news media asked the Mayor what kind of cyber security measures the city has in place, he didn’t seem to have a clue.”
The cab driver chimed in. “The traffic jams threw off the trash collection schedule, so now there’s garbage all over the streets. One problem just snowballs into another. This city has become a house of cards ever since they started installing all this Smart City stuff. Stupid City I call it.”
The passenger continued, “City officials never spent much time explaining to citizens how this Smart City technology is supposed to work. ‘It will save money,’ was pretty much all they said. Keeping people in the dark like that only serves to feed rumors, and that’s exactly what’s happening now.
“See how those people are walking, with their heads down? They’re trying to avoid the cameras that are mounted overhead. Rumor has it that terrorists have hacked into our traffic control system and are observing how we react through the camera system. People think they’re testing our readiness in preparation of a city-wide shutdown. Everyone is scared.”
John heard gunshots and instinctively ducked in his seat. “That’s just great,” the cabbie said. “People are trying to shoot out the cameras and we now have guns on the street. This is nuts.”
Just as suddenly as the traffic lights had gone out, they went back on again and traffic began crawling along. “It’s just a matter of time before the next outage, which will probably be worse,” the passenger said. “The traffic system is interconnected with the city’s electrical system and that has people really worried.”
“If the electricity goes out, we could be stuck in the city forever,” the cabbie added. “The subways won’t run, the city can’t pump water, and there’d be no lights anywhere. Crime is going to shoot through the roof.”
Arriving at his destination, the helpful passenger looked at John one final time. “If there’s nothing keeping you here, I’d suggest that you get out while you can. I’ve got a few things to attend to, then I’m leaving too.
“I’ve seen enough,” John said to the driver. “Get me back to the train station.”