Avatar and the smart city concept have one thing in common: They attract a lot of attention – be it among film aficionados or municipal administrations. However, looking deeper into the matter, there is more to it. They are centered on a common vision: the smart living environment. At first sight, this comparison might seem odd, considering that Avatar is set on a forest planet that has nothing in common with a human city of concrete and metal. However, the Academy Award-winning film can teach us more about smart cities and the Internet of Things than one might expect.
Smart city concept
Smart cities are built on new information and communication technologies. Sensors collect data from all different kinds of sources within the city, such as traffic, water management, waste management or energy supply. Within the smart city, one center collects the data, which in turn connects all the different infrastructure objects with each other, creating a single holistic network. A smart city can adapt quickly and automatically to external shocks and promises higher efficiency. Resources are only allocated to areas where they are needed and in the exact quantity required, thereby minimizing possible losses. For example, in traffic the flow of cars, buses and other road users is optimized with the help of algorithms. The system can control traffic in the most efficient way, for instance, by means of adaptive traffic light controls.
Avatar – the plot
Avatar is set in the mid-22nd century. On a distant planet called Pandora humans are hunting for a rare mineral to solve an ecological crisis on Earth. However, the indigenous Na’vi defend their planet. For this reason, Colonel Quaritch sends out ex-marine Jake Sully on a mission piloting an avatar – a remote controlled alien body that will enable him to become a part of the tribe. Jake tries to gain the trust of the Na’vi and get them to relocate. The story takes a turn when he meets the Na’vi woman Neytiri. She teaches him the values her tribe shares. The Na’vi have a deep connection to the forest, a network of energy that flows through all living things. All energy is only borrowed and with their death the energy that flows through them has to return to its origins. The Tree of Souls is their most sacred place. Eywa is a global being centered at the Tree of Souls. It is the guiding force and deity of Pandora and the Na’vi. The tribe believes Eywa keeps the ecosystem of Pandora in equilibrium. Ex-marine Jake immerses himself into their world and fights to protect the Na’vi.
A forest like a smart city
Eywa is more than just a single tree. It is very powerful because it has or connects to natural sensors everywhere. These sensors supply real-time information about people, the environment, resources, and so on. Networking is central to Eywa and the Internet of Things. The Pandorian forest is full of sensors, for example, when the Na’vi walk at night. The surfaces they walk on are illuminated with each step they make and everything they touch lights up. There is a kind of electrochemical communication between tree roots that is similar to urban infrastructure components in a smart city. In the movie it is compared to synapses between neurons. Each tree has 104 connections to the trees around it and there are 1012 trees on Pandora – more connections than the human brain. Pandora is a global network and the Na’vi can access it. They live in a smart environment and can upload or download information, i.e. memories, just as urban smart city dwellers can. Furthermore, the tribe are able to connect directly to animals by their pigtails. This allows the Na’vi to tame the animals and use them for their purposes, especially for hunting. This clearly resembles urban dwellers sharing mobility options like car or bike sharing.
Resuming the similarities, one can’t help but notice that the forest in Avatar is the prototype of a smart city. All units are connected with each other, creating an environment of harmony. Eywa is the origin of all energy and the Pandorian version of the Internet of Things. The Na’vi as the inhabitants of this world are part of the connections but also users of the network. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the present realization of the smart city concept is on its path but still has a long way to go to reach the ideal of Pandora.
Now it is your turn: What are your favorite movies or books dealing with smart cities, the Internet of Things or machine-to-machine communication (M2M)? Share your favorites with us!