Santiago de Chile, turned into the center of initiatives such as the Smart City Santiago project, leads the Latin American ranking of smart cities. Credit: Marianna Ianovska.

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Smart cities are gaining momentum in Latin American capitals. Projects such as the networks of sensors in Santiago de Chile or the creation of the world's largest urban cable car network in La Paz (Bolivia) provide a double opportunity. They offer the chance to take a leap forward and catch up with more developed countries in terms of energy efficiency and environmental care, but also to finally be able to bring running water and other basic supplies to millions of inhabitants of these large cities.


The path to the smart city is not the exclusive province of the highest income and most developed countries. The challenge of providing more liveable and sustainable cities that improve the quality of life of their residents is bringing leading projects to Latin America that have already achieved significant improvements in energy efficiency or mobility. Examples abound, from Chile's approach, in line with the global leaders in smart city innovation, to the smart water delivery systems being rolled out in Mexico, which are essential to guarantee access to running water for millions of citizens. On the occasion of the Smart City Expo LATAM Congress this October, here we review some of these initiatives.

Chile: a global reference

Santiago de Chile is the smartest city in Latin America, according to the Cities in Motion ranking prepared by the IESE Business School. In the global ranking it comes in at number 66. The Chilean capital has become a kind of laboratory where different technologies are tested. Through the Smart City Santiago project, within the Plan Nacional Chile Territorio Inteligente, these initiatives in the field of mobility, environmental control and citizen safety are brought together.

Among other measures, what stand out are the commitment to electric buses and taxis, charging facilities, smart electricity meters or variable message signs on roads. In addition, sensors in cities are a fundamental tool for collecting data of all kinds: from noise, to temperature, to air quality or determining when it is necessary to water a particular park or garden.

This information, for example, is crucial for initiatives such as Smartdrop, a system developed by three Chilean engineers that can reduce park watering by up to 50%. To avoid wasting this unique asset, sensors and information from nearby weather stations are used. Soil moisture and temperature are continuously monitored, allowing, for example, more intensive watering on hot days than on rainy ones.

Beyond saving the unevenness of the terrain, the cable car of La Paz (Bolivia) has allowed urban development while also promoting sustainable mobility. Credit: Snowcat.

Bolivia: a global leader in alternative transport

The La Paz cable car is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as being the longest cable car network in the world. In 2019 the system already had 32 stations, 10 lines and a total length of 33 kilometres. In total, it has more than 1,500 individual cable cars, a capacity of 34,000 passengers per hour in each direction and has already carried more than 250 million users since its inauguration in May 2014.

La Paz, Bolivia's capital and second most populous metropolitan area, is located in a steep valley high in the Andes Mountains. The city's streets rise over 500 metres in the almost three kilometres between the central business district and the neighbouring city, El Alto. This terrain makes it difficult to build ambitious rail or underground mass transit systems in the area. It was therefore essential to develop an alternative to the metro or suburban trains.

The Metropolitan Integration Network of Mi Teleférico, the public company in charge of managing city transport, thus becomes a system not only to bridge these gaps, but also to promote the growth and urban development of the city and also to encourage more sustainable mobility. In fact, it is the first cable car network to become the main means of public mobility in a large city. The project received the World Smart City Award last year for its innovative nature.

Sensors, information panels and cameras connected 24 hours a day make up the complex intelligent mobility system to avoid congestion in Medellín (Colombia). Credit: Mayor's Office of Medellín.

Colombia: monitoring to do away with traffic jams

How many hours a year do we spend stuck in traffic jams in Spain? It all depends on the city you live in. According to the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, it can be up to 40 hours. Some cities are looking for ways to reduce that time as much as possible. A case in point is Medellín, Colombia, where a smart mobility system has been implemented to curb urban congestion and accidents.

Dozens of cameras as well as traffic lights and buses with sensors are employed to monitor traffic. In this way it is possible to know the state of the roads at any moment and detect incidents that may affect mobility, and then inform drivers by means of information panels of the best routes. In addition, the Secretariat of Mobility has all the information on its website in real time, so that any user can view the state of the main roads minute by minute, 24 hours a day.

Mexico: cutting-edge technology for drinking water

"Imagine living in 2035 in a smart city surrounded by technology, the Internet of Things and electric cars, but without water." With this sentence, the Mexican company Clariti reminds us of the importance of having access to this vital liquid. That year could see planet Earth reach a "point of no return" if measures are not taken to combat climate change, according to a study published in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

Clariti, which last year received an award in the Digital Transformation category of the LATAM Smart City Awards, has developed a technological platform to achieve greater efficiency in the provision and management of public water services. "In Mexico, more than 10 million homes do not have a daily supply of drinking water and two million do not even have a water connection," the company explains. The more than 2,500 drinking water operators in the country "represent a serious efficiency problem." "They invoice only 63% of the water extracted and receive only 48%. This amounts to a deficit in income from water extracted and not paid for of 88 billion pesos annually (some 3.39 billion euros)."

To solve the problem, Clariti has developed a tool that allows workers to read water meters and prepare the invoice instantly by using a device. In this way, workers do not have to go to the same place twice. The system also relies on ATMs to extend the payment hours. In this way, the company claims to have managed to increase the income of water operators in five Mexican states by between 8% and 31% and to generate savings in water consumption of between 10% and 20%.

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

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