The rise of smart cities will be propelled by emerging trends such as machine learning, blockchain, and IoT.
While it is easy to visualize a smartphone, a smart TV, or even a smart car — the quintessential smart city might largely elicit confusion from the public.
In theory, the word “smart” - with regards to electronic devices or data- means the appliance is programmed to be capable of some independent action.
This in mind, a smart city would imply a particular jurisdiction or area to process, address, utilize, and make decisions on the millions of data inputs the thousands of smart sensors in that area take in.
For example — a smart state-issued parking app that helps drivers find available parking spaces without scavenging street after street for those few meters of space.
Potentially, the car may itself be equipped to handle digital payments, which prevents the need to carry change for filling up that parking meter.
For other uses involving traffic, perhaps the government utilize a sensor-dependent traffic system which analyses the flow of on-road vehicles and accurately determines which blocks require more green lights and which don’t.
While these examples are more of a smart transit system than a smart city, it is important to note that a city is a set of various process running in unison.
Simply put, a city is made by several governances, administrative, educatory, social, and technical processes.
Putting the “smart” in a city, in reality, implies smart transit systems, smart governance systems, smart research systems, and so forth, to run with their immutable databases that connect to each other for sharing information to make decisions.
In short, each facet of a smart city will have an underlying unique, immutable database.
Efficiency and energy conservation will form another factor for the city of the future. Minor things, such as improving observations or planning or electricity grids based on usage, or dimming street lights when the sensors do not sense any cars (while keeping the footpaths well-lit), all add up to the smart city ethos.
Hence, we may divide such a city in to three distinct categories —
- One that can accurately connect the local legislation with citizens to ensure e-participation and collective intelligence while making decisions.
- One that efficiently makes use of existing physical infrastructure via emerging technologies and data analytics and cultivates a robust economic, cultural, and social environment.
- One that readily learns, adapts, and innovates to changing circumstances by improving the intelligence of the city.
Several other features can be pointed out in this regard. Smart tech can evaluate and monitor environmental changes. Smart tech can improve sanitary functions by Internet-connected garbage trucks and IoT-enabled waste management systems. Smart sensors can be critical components of an early warning system before droughts, floods, landslides or hurricanes.
The list goes on and on.
If it weren’t immediately apparent to you yet, such a futuristic system requires a tremendous data processing capability on the back-end. Apart from that, an immutable database needs to store all this information to make it readily available when needed.
SO — is using a blockchain the solution here? Just like any other problem which attaches this buzzword to itself?
The answer is an unenquivocal no.
Just like any technology, Blockchain has some uses and some non-uses.
For example, you could in theory make Rick’s Butter Robot that senses you on the table and fetches a knife, a stick of butter, a slice of bread, and puts it on for you.
Or you could just do it yourself.
Similarly, a blockchain of this size, processing such a significant amount of data could require a complex set of crypto-economic laws governing it, and an even broader set of participants maintaining it.
Or, we could just use a DAG.
While I explained in simple terms what the smart-city would do, i.e. create a city-wide database running thousands of other customized databases (side-chains), a DAG architecture may be used for where the blockchain’s capability is limited.
So WTF is DAG?
In crypto-terms, Bitcoin is considered the blockchain 1.0.
It did the most basic stuff that a blockchain can do, i.e. validate and confirm transactions while noting it all down on a huge public ledger available for viewing by the world.
Then came Vitalik Buterin’s brainchild ( along with 19 other developers ), the open-source, decentralized ledger platform Ethereum.
Ethereum was built as a platform that allows applications to run precisely as programmed, with Buterin himself comparing the platform to an Android/iOS operating system that can run thousands of unrelated applications on it.
This was regarded as blockchain 2.0.
And now, in the year 2018, the rise of Iota led people to consider a Directed Cyclic Graph (DAG) system as blockchain 3.0.
But what makes this particularly impressive is the DAG is not a blockchain at all — in a sense — there are no blocks in this system.
To Expand -
Directed = the connections between the nodes (edges) have a direction.
Acyclic = “non-circular” = moving from node to node by following the edges, you will never encounter the same node for the second time.
Graph = structure consisting of nodes, that are connected to each other with edges.
The figure below shows a basic DAG structure :
DAG is best applied to problems related to data processing, scheduling, finding the best route in navigation, and data compression. i.e DAG is BEST suited for building a smart city.
For whatever reason, the term and technology remains relatively unknown, but from the various forums and sub-reddits I explore, I see rising interest from tech circles.
Companies like NANO, IOTA, Byteball and Cybervein operate on this type of an architecture.
While searching for tokens on OKEx — I came across the Cybervein project, which on closer inspection seemed quite like the DAG powerhouse.
While NANO impresses Reddit with instantaneous, zero-fee payments and IOTA continues to seduce tech circles with getting IoT-based devices on the blockchain, Cybervein comes closest to building a smart city if my earlier mentioned points are considered.
The project aims to “interconnect the data that runs the world” by creating a public network of immutable databases that trades, stores, and monetizes the exchange of information.
From their white paper—
The Cybervein ledger is fractally built as a network of independent, yet interconnected Smart Contracts. Contracts are designed as private ledgers, immune to irrelevant network congestion, yet able to easily communicate and exchange value and information.
Much like the internet.
The smart city of the future requires this kind of a setup/platform to adequately function in its purest sense.
The underlying architecture has to remain block-less in nature, and the transactions need to run directly into the DAG networks. Cities can’t wait for network participants to confirm transactions or validate blocks.
While I can’t fathom how the future would look. I believe DAG projects like NANO and Cybervein are closely working towards that regard.
Zero blocks at a time.