Smart cities are adaptive systems, where interaction between the city’s infrastructure and humans is modeled as a continuous feedback loop and enabled by a supporting cyber-system

“We view smart cities as adaptive systems, where interaction between the city’s infrastructure and humans is modeled as a continuous feedback loop and enabled by a supporting cyber-system,” explains Hector Muñoz-Avila, professor of computer science and engineering. “The infrastructures are themselves connected sharing information, which derives from infrastructure interdependencies, enabling cities to adapt to changes to over time. This includes long-term changes such as population growth and short-term immediate responses such as severe weather events.”

Muñoz-Avila, along with Lopresti, is part of a team of Lehigh researchers seeking solutions in what it calls “Smart Infrastructure for Connected Communities.” And although the team’s approach includes focused engineering needs in this space, it also addresses broader systemic and policy issues that can hinder these complex systems from running smoothly. It’s a big picture approach that tackles overarching problems and creates solutions that can be transferred across particular applications.

Connected communities will herald new opportunities to increase public safety, clean the environment, enable urban farming and on-demand manufacturing, and create as yet unseen avenues to entrepreneurship that will further accelerate the cycle of change. During the minutes spent on the bus commuting to work, in interactions with civil government, inside within the four walls of their homes, city dwellers will see the shape of their lives shift. And as they interact with the city’s mechanisms, use its , and communicate with each other—via their actions, mobile and personal devices, and computers—citizens will provide information that will alter the systems of the city.

But the task of creating successful smart cities is gargantuan. Researchers will have to find a way to integrate information from power plants, bridges, tunnels, means of transport, home appliances and everything in between. The data from sensors and devices will have to be communicated reliably and securely to data centers, which will analyze the information. Necessary actions or notifications will have to be transmitted to traffic control devices, buses and trains, power grids, homes and health care facilities. To top it all off, none of these systems will work optimally until their elements are connected and interdependent.

According to Muñoz-Avila, the cross-disciplinary culture at Lehigh in particular makes it a fruitful place to develop answers for tomorrow’s urban communities. “I have been at Lehigh for about 15 years, and one thing that always makes me feel great is the low barrier between the disciplines,” he says. “I have the freedom to devote a lot of time to interdisciplinary work, and that is exactly what is needed to create smart cities—people from multiple disciplines working together.”

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