The Role of AI Technology in Smart Cities

Growing city populations make urban innovation more vital than ever. Learn how smart cities use AI to improve the quality of life for their citizens.

June 20, 2024

As city populations grow around the country, so does the need for innovative urban solutions. Smart cities help address many pressing issues plaguing urban life, and artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a powerful tool in these cities’ arsenals. From waste management to public safety to energy conservation, AI has the potential to transform every sector of urban living, to the benefit of smart city residents. Let’s delve into the various applications of AI technology to assess its vital role in the evolution of smart cities nationwide. 

What is artificial intelligence (AI)? 

Artificial intelligence allows computer systems to replicate human intelligence. It’s an umbrella term encompassing multiple forms of technology, including machine learning, natural language processing, and deep learning. AI technology is often used for problem-solving and performing tasks such as identifying patterns, recognizing speech, and generating text or images. 

In other words, AI carries out jobs that typically require human intelligence. But how does it do this? Computer scientists model AI algorithms after human decision-making processes, which enables AI to “learn” and improve its performance of various tasks over time. Just like humans, AI learns by practicing its ability to classify and analyze data with each trial (Coursera, 2024; IBM, n.d.).

There are plenty of examples of AI technology being used in everyday life. Voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri use AI to recognize your voice and process speech. Additionally, newscasters rely on AI-enabled algorithms to accurately report the weather (IBM, n.d.). The applications of AI are seemingly endless, which is why more and more smart cities are turning to this technology to find solutions to urban problems and improve the quality of life of their citizens.

Applications of AI Technology in Smart Cities

Across the U.S., many smart cities have begun utilizing AI technology to elevate urban planning processes, municipal infrastructure, and public services. These are some of the many facets of urban life that AI can help transform.

  • Public Transportation

AI can significantly improve the quality of city services such as public transportation. By using this technology to analyze traffic data, optimize routes, and provide live updates to citizens, municipalities can improve the timing and frequency of various transportation options, thereby reducing wait times and increasing customer satisfaction.

Autonomous transit options are also being tested in various cities. These automated vehicles, equipped with sensors and IoT in addition to AI, could power everything from city buses to food delivery services. This technology would also be life-changing for people with disabilities and those who are unable to drive themselves (Berry, 2021; Ly, 2023). 

  • Waste Management 

AI technology has also transformed how cities handle waste management. Using AI, smart cities can sort different kinds of trash, reducing waste generation by separating trash from recyclables. Moreover, it can increase sustainability by strengthening recycling efforts. As AI’s capabilities involve pattern recognition, it can identify which items can be recycled in which areas of the city. AI also enables cities to keep track of their citizens’ recycling habits, allowing deficiencies in the waste management system to be identified and addressed swiftly (Berry, 2021; AYR International, 2023). 

  • Energy and Resource Management

AI technology is a game-changer for reducing the environmental impact of urban life and conserving precious resources like water. Through this technology, city officials can analyze data on energy usage and use it to make informed decisions about enacting energy-saving practices and implementing renewable energy sources. 

Furthermore, AI can help fortify conservation efforts by making citizens and businesses aware of their energy waste. For instance, smart meters can measure electricity and water usage in public spaces and private residences, allowing people to monitor their resource expenditure for reduced costs and better energy efficiency (Berry, 2021; AYR International, 2023; Ly, 2023). 

  • Public Safety and Security 

Real-time security cameras equipped with AI technology can monitor and analyze video footage to detect criminal activity and security threats as they occur, making public spaces safer for citizens. In an emergency, AI also helps facilitate disaster response protocols by analyzing data in real-time, making decisions about resource allocation, and contacting emergency services. Facial recognition technology, which can help identify suspects in the aftermath of a crime, is also supported by AI. This technology can even help predict and prevent crime by identifying patterns in criminal activity and simplifying the process of allocating resources based on those patterns (Berry, 2021; AYR International, 2023). 

  • Traffic Management and Parking 

AI can also be applied to traffic management and parking to reduce congestion, prevent accidents, reduce emissions, and detect available parking spaces. AI can analyze traffic patterns to detect periods of high congestion and address them through technology like smart traffic lights. AI-powered traffic cameras can also detect road crimes as they happen, allowing for immediate intervention. 

Additionally, license plate recognition technology can be used to enforce parking payments. Plus, AI systems installed in parking lots or garages can alert users to unoccupied parking spaces, further reducing congestion by getting drivers searching for open parking spots off the road faster (Berry, 2021; AYR International, 2023). 

  • Pollution and the Environment 

Smart cities can minimize their environmental footprint with AI technology by using it to assess their energy consumption, as well as their impact on global warming and local pollution levels. With this knowledge, city officials can make informed decisions about how to decrease energy waste, reduce emissions, and create more environmentally friendly practices. For instance, some smart cities use AI to detect carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, to create policies around transportation. Furthermore, AI technology can analyze air pollutants to predict upcoming pollution levels, and this data enables local authorities to implement necessary public safety notices and take action to protect the environment (Berry, 2021; AYR International, 2023). 

  • Maintenance and Anticipating Future Needs

AI technology can be used to assess issues with road infrastructure and identify areas where repairs are needed. This helps to improve public safety by pinpointing spots that are potentially dangerous due to destruction or aging. 

In addition to identifying current issues, AI can also help to predict the future needs of a city and its residents. For example, energy tracking technology can help cities determine when energy resources are running low so that alternative energy sources can be implemented or energy-saving measures can be put in place (Berry, 2021). 

Examples of AI Technology in the United States

AI technology has the potential to revolutionize daily life for all U.S. citizens and save municipalities across the country time, money, and resources. Here’s a look at how

AI technology in the U.S. is being applied now:

  • Monitoring Road Infrastructure with RoadBotics

Developed by Carnegie Mellon University in 2016, RoadBotics by Michelin is a global leader in road safety technology that uses AI to help communities save time and money by making data-informed decisions about their roadways. In the United States, RoadBotics has used AI to assess the quality of roads across the country, identifying issues like aging infrastructure, inflated traffic demands, and lack of funding, all of which contribute to the deterioration of vital roadways. By identifying where this deterioration is occurring, RoadBotics allows the process of road repairs to be streamlined, helping road managers improve the efficiency of road maintenance (RoadBotics, 2024).

  • Managing Traffic Flow with CIRCLES

The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) Berkeley have launched the CIRCLES project to reduce congestion, decrease fuel use, and alleviate traffic through the implementation of connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technology. This AI-powered technology is being tested in Nashville, Tennessee, to prove its usefulness on real roadways. Researchers from universities across the country anticipate that CAVs will significantly improve traffic streams in congested areas, thereby elevating energy efficiency and reducing emissions. The ITS team predicts that if less than five percent of all vehicles were replaced with CAVs, vehicle energy consumption would drop by 10 percent (UC Berkeley, 2020). 

In the years to come, city populations will likely continue to trend upward, meaning the issues afflicting urban life will only affect more and more people as time goes on. Thus, it’s never been more important to find solutions to these issues. Fortunately, artificial intelligence provides much-needed fixes to many of these problems, helping smart cities reduce their energy consumption, mitigate their environmental impact, augment the efficiency of their public transportation systems, and increase the safety and quality of life of their citizens. The applications of AI are unending, and smart cities will certainly continue to reap the benefits of this ever-evolving technology.


Smart City Works is a non-profit focused on solving urban challenges through technology and innovation that fosters greater economic development. We harness the power of digital technology to create smart, sustainable, and resilient communities. 

Contact us today to learn more about how Smart City Works can help you innovate your organization, business, or community. 


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