Now that smart technology products are attainable to millions of consumers, and plans for “smart cities” are being put into action, it feels like we’ve arrived. The Internet of Things (IoT) is here to to make our lives easier both on a small scale and in grander terms. But the execution of IoT is so much more complicated than the attainability and affordability of the gadgets themselves, or the presence of applicable technologies.

For instance, within just a single home, consumers seek to integrate several subsystems including a smart thermostat and HVAC system, home entertainment, lighting, security cameras, safety sensors (for gas leaks, water leaks, etc.), smart kitchen appliances, and communication devices. These devices must be seamlessly connected. Imagine how much more complicated it gets when applying smarter technology to an entire city. It sounds amazing: smart transportation and parking, smart security, smart water and waste management, smart street lighting, and sustainable energy. But that requires smart power grids as well as smart water and sanitation systems—which would require an infrastructure overhaul, not to mention a workforce trained to handle these technologies.
From smart homes to technology-based urban growth and improvement, these are a few of the challenges we face:


Cost and Integration Challenges: Besides supplies, shipping, and labor, integrating smart technologies can be a financial challenge at best and a roadblock at worst. Making the systems communicate is more of a hassle than it might sound, and it requires strategic planning and many man-hours.


Digital exclusiveness: Access to the Internet and smart devices is still currently tied to socioeconomic status. This uneven adoption of smart home technologies would challenge the integration of such technologies at a community level.


Digital security: The Internet is still relatively young, and the everyday citizen is wary of sharing data. Imagine systems being compromised at the city level and potentially affecting traffic lights, transport, or emergency services.


Obsolete structures and systems: Power grid infrastructure will need to be made intelligent to accommodate sustainable energy, which requires re-engineering of the technical infrastructure. We can’t just go tearing out buildings, roads, and pipe networks. A smart infrastructure that integrates sustainability will need to be approached one step at a time.


Trade-offs: Even though smart systems, once installed, promise to be save money, the initial investment is going to be sizeable. Most technological progress we make is rife with trade-offs. The Industrial Revolution made consumer goods cheaper and easier to manufacture and ship, but the result has been lower quality goods, often produced in inhumane working conditions using processes that harm the environment. Electronic resources conserve energy and fossil fuels, but they also have a trade-off; data storage already consumes 3 percent of the global energy supply.


Tackling Smart Intervention and Retrofitting

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every home or community. Retrofitting and using existing infrastructure means building solutions around what already exists rather than trying to start with a clean slate. We also can’t apply the strategy that works for one community directly to another. Smart technology can be applied prescriptively to address a community’s particular problems and solve issues of obsolete systems. If certain infrastructure assets are reaching the end of their useful life, that’s a good place to start applying smart technologies and starting fresh.


Trying to do too much too quickly could create problems, but governments need to establish policies that support adapting infrastructure one step at a time to new technologies, therefore bettering the lives of the people in their communities. The vision of a smart future—from the home to the connected global population—needs to avoid focusing on progress for progress’s sake and instead revolve around human needs and individual communities.


About Hannah West
Hannah West writes for Modernize
with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.