Smart cities that reach the upper echelons of digital living

Connected communities such as Bleutech Park Las Vegas are a tech-fan’s dream – but without system integration, smart is a non-starter.

From the futurist visions of tech giants, entrepreneurs and technology integrators, smart cities are evolving far beyond sensor-outfitted light poles along sidewalks. Instead, their blueprints depict whole communities whose systems and services ebb and flow on waves of real-time data streams. Smart city plans now reach the upper echelons of digital living, and Bleutech Park Las Vegas (BTP) illustrates this well.

BTP is a $7.5 billion development that bills itself as the world’s first entirely sustainable, self-contained ecosystem. Built on digital platforms, BTP will use communication technologies to integrate and umpire critical systems such as water, energy and transportation. The resulting synergies – as well as a cache of cool apps, devices and technologies – will form a sustainable environment with the swagger of vintage Vegas.

Like all smart cities, data is the lifeblood of BTP. And this means that system integration is vital to build a secure, citizen-centric community that is flexible, sustainable and livable.  

Viva (smart) Las Vegas

The future of digital infrastructure is taking shape in the Las Vegas Valley. BTP promises to be “the first city in the world to boast a digital revolution in motion, redefining the infrastructure industry sector.” Designed as an “eco-entertainment park,” BTP will feature a mixed-use, sustainable living environment comprised of net-zero buildings, including approximately 2,500 ultra-luxury residences, 1,500 workforce housing units, tech-smart offices, retail, hotels and casinos, and a state-of-the-art entertainment tower that will redefine the skyline as it soars 1,200 feet above the street.

The 210-acre development is scheduled to break ground in March 2021 and should take six to eight years to develop. To achieve its goal of building a fully integrated, self-contained ecosystem, BTP will be developed from the ground up, with all smart infrastructure built entirely from scratch.

As a hallmark of smart cities, BTP’s underlying connected systems will share an awareness of emerging situations and react by finding alternative paths and best actions across distributed devices and systems. BTP is working with several strategic partners – including Black & Veatch – to incorporate digital infrastructure into the community and ensure proper integration. Without this, smart is a non-starter.

Take transportation, for example. Like other smart cities, BTP is planning to incorporate autonomous vehicles (AVs) as public transportation shuttles to leapfrog traffic. Autonomous shuttles put many smart technologies into play, including road sensors, LiDAR, radar, 5G and edge data centres. These devices and apps create situational awareness through vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications to ensure safe and efficient transport. With several tie-ins, network design and deployment require an end-to-end approach to interconnect each technology seamlessly, ensure secure network performance, and support the demand for substantial bandwidth, rapid response times and low latency.

The same integration is essential to create sustainable energy systems that expand and contract alongside need. BTP’s energy system includes 33 “supertrees” that will tower 50 to 100 feet above the walkways. Teeming with vertically grown desert plants and foliage, this unique biome will double as a solar photovoltaic system to generate power. In fact, photovoltaic glass will be standard in all structures, turning entire building exteriors into single solar panels. The park will harness power from the kinetic energy generated by footfall, and the main plaza will be constructed from transparent concrete with solar panels underneath, providing wireless charging for electric vehicles (EVs). Smart cities can also produce Green Hydrogen onsite to power fuel cell AVs, cars, buses or trucks.

Smart cities often include distributed energy resources (DER) – such as EVs, hydrogen technology, energy storage, and solar – to offset energy costs and achieve a net-zero carbon footprint. As smart cities and sustainability initiatives multiply, DER will scale, and could cause significant ripple effects across the electric distribution grid due to intermittency and load balancing. This emphasises the need to plan smart cities with broader community and regional systems in mind. Developers, municipalities and utilities should align goals and projects across sectors because disparate systems become interdependent when they connect under internet of things (IoT) and smart city configurations.

The currency of livability

Everyone is thrilled by cool technologies, and smart cities such as BTP are a tech-fan’s dream. The intrigue around self-healing concrete that uses water-activated bacteria to fill cracks, or the allure of hologram-driven AR and VR workspaces, for example, are the magic beans of smart cities, the elements from which excitement sprouts.

But smart cities aren’t just a collection of digital technologies, and the hardware and software must weave a social fabric in which people want to live, work and play. To this end, data is the quality-of-life currency in smart cities. Flexible telecommunications and analytics platforms collect, organise and convey real-time data that inform apps in BTP and other smart cities. This insight guides system adaptation to reflect the changing needs and desires of workers, visitors and residents.

Data from wearables, for example, can help residents avoid Covid-19 exposure, and biometrics can help workers avoid ergonomic stresses related to heavy lifting or repetition. Wearables, sensors, and an open data platform can integrate with intelligent building management to capture distributed environmental sensing and user wellbeing status to inform and adapt heating, cooling and ventilation.

Relying on connectivity places data privacy and cyber-security as top priorities. Digital communications platforms are designed to establish cyber-security protections and standards, which means security is embedded within apps and interconnected devices to protect data and ensure privacy as data is transferred across the system. Securing information at its source and creating a cyber-secure culture helps put smart city populations at ease. It also keeps their secure data input flowing to a central analytics platform, which is what helps makes smart cities personalised and livable.

Flexible, future-proofed smart cities

It won’t be long before success is measured by how well a city applies digital innovation to build sustainable, future-proofed essential systems such as energy, water and transportation. But how can a city future-proof technologies that are still evolving? It can focus on the communications systems that support them, such as fibre.

Fibre is future-proof. Once fibre is in place, the 4G or 5G network can reach exponentially higher speeds, and support more sophisticated apps and technologies, with simple radio equipment additions. Secure, converged wired and wireless networks can scale over time to support a fusion of old and new digital apps and processes such as wearables, big data, artificial intelligence, robotics and sensor-enabled intelligence, as well as anything Elon Musk dreams up.

This is when the magic happens – when systems, apps, technologies and people become a synchronised entity. At this nexus, small scale adjustments, such as room temperature, are made automatically, while on the large scale, smart city systems continually adapt to changing circumstances – from disruptive technologies and evolving business models to global pandemics. This is the ultimate future-proofing: resilience and stability no matter what the future brings. Like holding pocket aces, the smart community is going to dominate, and may even win big.

Accelerate the future with Black & Veatch. For more information visit bv.com/connectedcommunities

by Steph Stoppenhagen, Director of Strategy & Innovation, Black & Veatch