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For Earth Day, Microsoft outlines its efforts to create smarter, more efficient cities

Yesterday, Google offered its tips and outlined its efforts for sustainability. Now, Microsoft has also chimed in with what the firm thinks would help decrease ecological impact in the context of mass emigration from rural to urban areas in the next few decades.

In a post on the Microsoft Green Blog, Robert Bernard, who is a member of the company's "corporate, external and legal affairs group", first of all emphasized the firm's efforts centered around lessening environmental impact across its staff, business, and non-profit partners. He then went on to underline the future problems of urban centers, one of which would be maximizing efficiency. This would need to happen due to projections that by 2050, six billion people (or around 70% of the planet's population) would be living in cities.

To help with this ever-growing problem, Bernard highlighted the CityNext program, which helps cities better manage their infrastructure and resources, therefore increasing efficiency.

Building on a sample technology first implemented to manage energy consumption at Microsoft's 88-acre Redmond campus, the firm collaborated with management and consulting company Accenture, as well as the City of Seattle, to install smart systems into buildings. This initiative uses the cloud to give building managers easier access to statistics, helping them make better decisions in terms of energy conservation.

In Finland's capital, Microsoft helped implement a cloud-based management and analysis solution for the city's buses to decrease "fuel costs and consumption, increase travel safety, and improve driver performance". The smarter implementation was built on top of existing warehouse systems.

Microsoft's Research Lab in Asia created a service called Urban Air, which allows for real time observation as well as prediction of air quality in 72 cities across China. To make it easier for people to check conditions, there's also a free mobile app, available for Windows, Android and iOS. According to Microsoft, the app helps governments see which factory or traffic concentration produces the most pollution, informing their steps towards mitigating the problem. Microsoft also says the app is being used about three million times a day.

This is not all, as the software giant was also eager to point out some of the more recent advances in the program for three other US cities.

Chicago's City Digital consortium (of which Microsoft is a part) kicked off a project in the fall of 2015, which would 3D-map underground structures, helping to inform future city planning. Of course, Microsoft contributed with its cloud platform to help "design new ways to gather data and properly utilize predictive analytics in order to better address water, infrastructure, energy, and transportation challenges".

In Boston, the company started a partnership to "spread information about the variety of urban farming programs in Boston, and the potential of AI and other technology to increase their impact". This is an attempt to better utilize existing resources so that food is produced more efficiently via what's called "Urban Farming".

Last but not least, in San Francisco, the company worked with local partner Athena Intelligence to bring what it calls "the internet of land, food, water and energy" to businesses so they can improve "local decision-making".

Microsoft itself is also working towards "greener" operations, as it has committed to use at least 50% renewable energy by 2018.

All in all, some rather big steps towards increasing the efficiency of cities and preparing their vital systems and services for a smarter, more connected future.

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