For those with an interest in smart technology, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a catch-all term for the network of physical devices that are connected to each other via the Internet. Unlike the World Wide Web where data is stored in vast banks of computer servers waiting to be remotely accessed, the IoT consists of Internet-enabled objects that we interact with on a daily basis. From smartphones, tablets and wearables, to parking meters, traffic cameras and thermostats, every device in the IoT functions as a hub that can collect and transmit data in real time.
Experts estimate that the IoT will contain 50 billion objects by the year 2020, and this kind of pervasive, instantaneous data exchange is going to enable exciting new possibilities in a number of fields. From public transportation and energy conservation to law enforcement and home security, the IoT will create a continuous flow of information that allows authorities to more efficiently allocate limited public resources. And while you may have heard of cool new things like the “smart home” or the “smart grid,” you probably haven’t heard of the “smart city.”
That’s right. An entire city, linked together via a communication network that facilitates the delivery of faster, more efficient civic services. By implementing an “Internet of Things” infrastructure that passively collects and transmits relevant, real-time data, cities can holistically improve their operations through data analysis and implementation, cutting down everything from water waste and police response times to improving traffic flow at all hours of the day. And it’s not as futuristic as it sounds. Government sectors around the world are already experimenting with smart city technology, and the global market for “smart urban services” is expected to surpass $400 billion in the next 5 years.
So with the turn of 2016, let’s take a look at how the ever-growing IoT could lead to the development of smart cities around the world.
The most widespread use of smart city technology is in traffic management. In Amsterdam, the local Traffic Control center uses “smart traffic” software to monitor traffic and adjust light schedules accordingly. Unlike traditional Traffic Control centers, which set light sequences based upon predictive algorithms, Amsterdam has the ability to immediately register disruptive events (like accidents) and divert cars from preceding intersections before a traffic jam occurs. Their Traffic Control center even has the ability to increase traffic light brightness based upon weather conditions (fog, rain, etc.). And many road signs are digital, allowing the city to broadcast estimated route times and traffic updates on streets as well as highways.
In Barcelona, a comprehensive network of traffic lights and sensors has helped the city develop flexible bus routes based upon changing traffic patterns. This transportation system, a patented part of the “CityOS,” is designed to maximize the number of green lights a public bus can go through during any given route. More importantly, the CityOS will green-light every emergency vehicle (ambulance, fire truck, etc.) on its way to an accident, improving response times considerably. These are just 2 examples of the ways in which smart city technology is already improving public transportation.
Law enforcement is another area where smart city technology has really taken off. As with public transportation, Traffic Control centers can use data collected from streetlights and traffic cams to speed cops on their way to a crime scene. They can also lock down streets by locating a fleeing suspect and trapping him in gridlock traffic. This prevents potentially dangerous suspects from reaching the highway and starting a high-speed chase.
Law enforcement agencies are also using the data collected from IoT networks (cameras, streetlights, alarm systems) for “predictive policing,” studying crime patterns and stationing cops at high risk areas when certain indicators are present. Chicago has a smart city initiative called the WindyGrid hub, which uses HD cameras embedded in streetlights to improve city-wide response times to violent crimes. The WindyGrid hub even collates data from 911 calls and social media when it senses a potential emergency or disaster that is about to occur.
Last but not least is conservation. Smart cities actively aim to reduce the consumption of water and electricity, while identifying other health and safety concerns that need to be addressed. By reducing heating in what it senses as unoccupied buildings, the City of Stockholm used their Stokab dark fibre system to lower power usage considerably. Other cities have saved power by turning down their street lamps late at night, but only when traffic cameras reveal that no pedestrians or cars are around to be affected. This responsive power adjustment would not possible without a well-developed IoT infrastructure.
The CityOS in Barcelona has a comprehensive system of sensors in their irrigation system to provide gardeners with real time data about how much water each plant needs. This irrigation system, combined with smart meter technology, has saved the city an average of $58 million/year since it was first installed. The WindyGrid hub in Chicago has sensors under every bridge to sense when bridges may freeze and accidents may be imminent. And Amsterdam has a system to conserve the most precious resource of all: parking. The Mobypark app allows owners to lease out private parking spaces for a fee, while providing the City (and its residents) with an updated directory of all available parking spaces.
So what does this all mean? It means that a rapidly expanding IoT is generating more current, constant and diversified information than we’ve ever had before. Currently, 64% of Americans own a smartphone as of 2015, and with mobile/wearable technology on the rise and cities starting to adopt IoT strategies, a massive data collection infrastructure is rapidly developing. As always, the challenge is in handling, sorting and interpreting this massive flow of data from these various sensors and devices. This data is fed into a cloud infrastructure that is responsible for quickly processing, storing, and reporting insights, thus creating a need for a cloud architecture based on highly efficient, dense and powerful hardware platforms that can scale sensibly as data grows. According to the International Data Corporation‘s Worldwide Quarterly Cloud IT Infrastructure Tracker, the total spend on IT infrastructure products for deployment in cloud environments will grow at a CAGR of 15.5% and will reach $54.3 billion by 2019, accounting for 46.6% of the total IT infrastructure spend.
With the total number of connected devices projected to be over 200 billion by 2020, our world will be more connected and “smarter” than ever before. With data and data insights available at every level through every device, the potential paradigm shift of our interaction with the world and how the world interacts with us stretches the human imagination. The future belongs to whoever figures out how to realistically utilize the full potential “Internet of Things,” gathering the reins of dynamic, actionable intelligence to change the world as we know it. As amazing and powerful as IoT currently is, it’s evident that we are only just scratching the surface.