The challenges on the road to smart towns

In Japan and elsewhere, the first "smart communities" are being developed. The challenges they face in order to become a common reality for ordinary citizens seem equally impressive as the futuristic visions they inspire.

Smart communities take a multiplicity of forms. Some are government-led. Others are promoted by business. The common thread - what makes these communities "smart" - is that they produce new kinds of data and put it to use for the creation of more efficient, resilient and environment-friendly lifestyles.

Panasonic's Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, launched with fanfare last November, is one of the most prominent of these initiatives in Japan.

According to Masako Wada, senior coordinator of the Fujisawa SST management team, there are currently 190 households in this experimental community, with about 30 businesses concentrated within it. The plans call for the community to more than double in size in the coming years.

In the Fujisawa SST version of a smart community, the main focus is to promote clean energy and to be prepared for a major natural disaster. Solar panels are mounted on the buildings and along certain gates, electric cars are available for rental, the use of community bicycles is encouraged, and home batteries are expected to contain sufficient energy to power basic services for three days in the event that the electricity grid goes down.

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