The world’s communication system was revolutionized about 25 years ago when software technology was added to the phone, turning it into what we today call the smartphone.

That same evolution is now happening to cities as new technology is being developed to improve our transportation needs, water availability, sustainability and other essential components.

To meet the growing demand to understand and implement that advanced technology into our urban systems, UCF this fall will offer a new smart cities master’s degree track in civil engineering, the nation’s first such degree offered in the engineering field. The new specialty track will be offered by the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Examples of emerging technologies include fields such as smart traffic- and parking-management systems, driverless public transportation, and systems that analyze data to automatically adjust for public needs.

Mohamed Abdel-Aty, chair of the college’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering and the lead of UCF’s smart-cities initiative, says the university is well positioned to offer the new track because many faculty members are already doing research in relevant topics. Some of that involvement includes:

The Federal Highway Administration in 2017 awarded $11.9 million to a team from UCF, the Florida Department of Transportation and MetroPlan Orlando to test several new transportation technologies; Siemens last year began working with UCF to implement a smart university infrastructure to improve the performance and efficiency of buildings and energy grids by harnessing the power of data; and UCF is a founding supporter of BRIDG (Bridging the Innovation to Development Gap), a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Osceola County to make wafers used in advanced sensors, optics, photonics and advanced-system miniaturization.

Also, UCF last summer hosted planners in academia, industry, the public sector and the community at the Data Science Summit: Smart Cities of the Future conference to address emerging trends in the use of futuristic technology in public spaces.

The emergence of smart cities comes at a time when the United Nations says 66 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, a jump from the current 54 percent.

“Fueled by the growth of smart cities nationwide, workforce demand is increasing for engineers and city planners who are prepared for the high-tech urban landscape,” says Abdel-Aty. “We are offering engineers a way to stay ahead of the curve, knowing that they will soon face the challenges associated with rapidly developing technologies applied to our field.”

Administrators envision that this track will bridge some of the gaps with other engineering disciplines and provide an opportunity for collaboration on research and education that is relevant to smart cities.

The 30-hour program was designed by UCF researchers and educators in transportation systems, environmental engineering, water-resources management and public administration in addition to other engineering disciplines. The faculty has collaborated for two years in a program known as the Future City Initiative at UCF to explore futuristic technologies to help cities meet challenges, sustainability and resiliency goals for cities.

The new program is for students with appropriate science or engineering baccalaureate backgrounds; both thesis and non-thesis options are available. In addition, there will be a fully online smart cities track.

The registration deadline for the new track is July 15.