At the Smart to Future Cities Summit in London this past April, keynote speaker Theo Veltman, innovation manager for the City of Amsterdam, noted that “if technology can’t help its people achieve happiness, then there is no reason for technology to exist.”
Meanwhile, in a continuing effort to track some of the realities of the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, IOT Analytics, which provides market research on the IoT, mined thousands of websites to verify and classify 1,600 actual enterprise IoT projects. In 2018, for the first time, the largest group of projects fell into the Smart City segment (367 projects). Given a world that now features 37 “megacities”—each with a population above 10 million—and continuing migration into cities as people seek opportunities and a higher quality of life, cities must get “smarter” in order to efficiently manage resources, alleviate overcrowding and traffic, and provide a healthy, sustainable environment.
6 Ways Cities Are Leveraging IoT
So how are cities currently leveraging IoT to improve urban life and boost the happiness of city dwellers? Here are six examples.
- Easing Traffic Congestion: One of the first things many cities naturally focus on with IoT initiatives is easing traffic congestion and helping drivers find a place to park. An integrated IoT-enabled infrastructure of intelligent traffic systems, safer roads, directed parking, frictionless toll and parking payments can give back up to 60 hours a year to drivers stuck in their cars, according to an Intel-sponsored study by Juniper Research. Data from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America also shows that 30% of all traffic congestion in cities results from drivers looking for parking spots.
- Improving Air Quality: Sensors embedded in roads or HD cameras mounted on smart streetlights can determine when parking spaces are empty, and drivers can find the nearest available spot with a smartphone app. And because images contain huge amounts of data, a single embedded computer vision system can collect many types of data. Over time, improvements in the software and hardware will allow more capabilities for the same cost, size and power. So a system originally deployed to monitor parking spaces could be upgraded to monitor traffic flow, potholes and trash. Such a parking system is in place in Barcelona, where traffic has been reduced because fewer cars are circling blocks hunting for a space. By lessening car exhaust emissions, this also improves the air quality. German conglomerate Bosch is working with Daimler on an alternative system that uses sensors in cars to track vacant parking spots. The sensors send that information to the cloud, which then guides other drivers to open spots.Three devices, also designed by Bosch, have been fastened to streetlights in Las Vegas, which is experimenting with monitoring air quality and changing the pattern of traffic lights when carbon dioxide builds up in a particular spot. The company’s engineers shrank an air-quality monitoring system the size of a shipping container until it fit in a box the size of a backpack. The system costs a tenth as much as competing technology and measures a dozen factors, including carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
- Optimizing Traffic Flow: Las Vegas is also experimenting with a number of pilot projects in an area of downtown it’s calling “the Innovation District.” One aim is to improve traffic by deploying sensors at intersections in combination with machine learning. The sensors can count vehicles and pedestrians, and eventually, the system learns to intuit traffic patterns—and things like how Monday traffic differs from Friday traffic. It can then make recommendations for optimizing the traffic flow.
- Easing Access to Government Services: San Antonio is improving the quality of life in innovative ways. The city is spread out across 460 square miles, so court appearances can entail a long drive for some. The city has eased this problem for residents with video court monitors at court kiosks throughout the metro area. Police officers can also use the system to more quickly obtain warrants when needed.
- Improving Life for the Elderly: A convergence of developments is also improving life for the elderly, making it easier for them to maintain their independence and remain in cities with easy access to cultural activities, healthcare facilities, old friends and familiar neighborhoods. One of these developments is the coming of “frictionless” public transport, allowing seniors—as well as the rest of us—to move around the city easily. With frictionless transport, all modes of transportation will be connected and optimized to make the experience easy. Payments will be handled by a centralized system, using a card or an app. Your smartphone will notify you of the accurate arrival time of a bus or train, and an app will also help plan the optimal route if it involves switching modes of transport. You can board a bus or subway having already paid for the ticket with your phone. You can see an early example of this in Chicago, where a Ventra card can pay for rides on various modes of the city’s transportation system—CTA, Pace and Metra. With the introduction of the card’s app, the city is also experimenting with adding bikeshares.
- Improving Healthcare: Another converging development is the new array of IoT-connected medical devices such as vitals-tracking wearables. Heart monitors can watch ailments like arrhythmia and alert doctors to adverse events in real time, and smart glucometers can track blood sugar readings via a smartphone app. Sensors embedded in orthopedic implants can communicate post-surgery performance. Remote monitoring tools can allow family caregivers to monitor seniors unobtrusively by, for instance, alerting them whenever a connected device such as a coffeemaker is turned on—when the routine deviates, a family member can check in. Smart senior homes are starting to use machine learning and predictive analytics to derive insights from seniors’ routines and any deviations, alerting staff if something seems off.
All of this is just the beginning. Chicago is looking to encourage other cities to become smarter by sharing the open source code it has developed, hoping other municipalities will reciprocate: Cities could build on one another’s achievements without reinventing the wheel each time. And as cities collect more data of all sorts and make it available to app developers and residents, new—as yet unimagined—applications and benefits will emerge. One note of caution: With all the data that will flow through the IoT—as well as the multiplying number of potentially vulnerable entry points to the network—it is vital to build in end-to-end security from the start.