An “Internet of Things” embedded in the physical world is poised to transform the way the modern metropolis operates.

In the wake of the revolutionary changes brought about by the world wide web over just the past 20 years, much is now being made about the potentially transformative impact of an “Internet of Things” (IoT) comprised of the objects and infrastructure of the physical world.

The basic concept of an IoT is easy enough to understand, although on a conceptual level it involves the somewhat the counter-intuitive trope of taking the intangible Internet that has long been an indispensable part of our daily lives and applying it to a network of tangible objects and devices.

In essence, the IoT is a network of objects, items and devices in the physical world that are embedded with the latest hi-tech appurtenances, including sensors, electronic and software, and incorporated into a single integrated system by means of advanced connectivity and the actual Internet.

The incorporation of physical objects and infrastructure into an IoT will enable them to communicate and interact with each other for the benefit of users, enabling a sensor-equipped car park, for example, to apprise drivers of available spaces by means of their smart phones.

The current concept of an IoT has emerged as a result of the simultaneous evolution and ongoing confluence of a range of technologies, including the actual Internet itself, wireless communications systems, and embedded sensor devices.

The creation of an interconnected network of physical objects has potentially revolutionary implications for multiple areas of modern society – perhaps chief amongst them the way that cities operate and function.

Urban space can be converted into cohesive, large-scale systems that interact with occupants, vehicles and the broader environment in order to achieve heightened convenience and efficiency.

The South Korean city of Songdo, dubbed the world’s first ever “smart city,” could soon serve as a sterling example of the tremendous benefits brought by the deployment of IoT within an urban setting.

The planned city, situated 15 minutes by car from Incheon International Airport, is still the process of development, and is expected to house a population of nearly 40,000 and provide jobs to a further 55,000 people upon its completion by the end of the decade.

The physical systems and infrastructure of the entire city will be incorporated into a single digital network for vastly enhanced operation.

“In Songdo International Business District, nearly all aspects of life are digitally networked, from sensors that help control traffic and public transportation schedules, to Cisco TelePresence-based personal video services linking residents to businesses and service providers, to the centralized control systems that manage city services like waste disposal and energy generation,” said Tom Murcott, executive vice president-international at Gale International, the group responsible for Songdo’s development.

Songdo’s IoT features will include sensors installed beneath its streets to monitor vehicle flow and permit corresponding adjustments to traffic lights, and cars will be embedded with radio tags in order to identify heavy congestion.

Sensors will be used to measure the amount of salt water flowing into the city’s main park, while garbage trucks will be replaced with a pneumatic waste disposal system connected to the homes of residents, which conveys refuse to automated sorting and recycling centres by means of pipes.

While Songdo serves an example of the creation of an IoT from the ground up by building a completely new city from scratch, long-established cities around the world are also incorporating these features into their existing systems and infrastructures in order to improve efficiency.

Adelaide has emerged as a key pathfinder in Australia when it comes to the reaping the benefits of IoT. The South Australian government has entered an agreement with technology giant Cisco to transform Adelaide into a leading showcase of IoT’s capabilities, alongside a host of other world cities including Barcelona, Chicago and Dubai.

Under the agreement, Adelaide has been anointed the “Lighthouse City in Australia” for implementing and demonstrating Cisco’s smart cities innovations.

“As a Cisco Lighthouse City, Adelaide will be one of the very few cities ready to develop and pilot new urban services and solutions to benefit the customer and citizen experience,” said Dr Anil Menon, Cisco president, of Smart+Connected Communities. “Adelaide will have access to Cisco’s infrastructure, as well as our network of partners and global ecosystem.”

In its role as Cisco Lighthouse City, Adelaide City Council will devote $250,000 this year to two IoT trials which involve parking and lighting systems.