How Internet of Things (IoT) Technology is Used in Infrastructure
The Internet of Things promises to change the way we interact with the world. By leveraging the data and connectivity of the digital world and applying it to physical objects, nearly everything we do can be done faster, safer, and more efficiently. Lately, the concepts have even been applied to the world itself in the form of smart infrastructure.
Although the majority of IoT innovation and development is being done by private or corporate organizations, especially in the consumer electronics space, the sheer potential of the Internet of Things is not lost on the public sector. There are currently a number of projects underway to bring IoT concepts and benefits to large populations. The reality of the connected city is nearly upon us.
The technology is unique in that it can be easily used and enjoyed by anyone, no matter what their interests or technological savviness. The incredibly wide range of applications (literally the entire scope of the physical world) means that anyone and everyone can benefit from IoT.
What Is the Connected City?
One area in which the government and private sectors converge to reap the benefits of IoT is in the development of the so-called connected city. City planners and governmental officials see the safety and efficiency gains waiting to be realized through the application of IoT technologies, and they are eager to work with corporate and private tech leaders to make them a reality.
Network giant Cisco has published a number of white papers detailing what it might mean for a city to become “connected”, and a number of summits and events have been organized further exploring the concept. The term encompasses digital and IoT renovations to a number of city services.
- Location Data-Based City Planning – By leveraging citizens’ devices and online activity, with their permission of course, city planners and other officials can gain new insights into how their citizens live and operate. Much of modern city planning consists of educated guesses. By collecting real data and in real time, cities can become exponentially more efficient.
- Traffic Routing – A connected city could be outfitted with smart street lights and even stop signs. When a traffic-congesting incident such as a crash or construction occurs, detour signs and stop lights could automatically reconfigure themselves to guide traffic to a more efficient path.
- Municipal Wi-Fi – The keystone to all of this is in bringing as many citizens as possible online. To that end, more and more cities have committed to offering free public Internet access in parks, downtown areas, and other city spaces.
Another area in which the connected city can truly benefit its citizens is with the implementation of a smart parking solution. In large urban areas like San Francisco, New York, and Chicago, the burden of finding a parking spot often puts people off driving altogether. Not related to the parking assistance built into certain high end cars, the term “smart parking” instead refers to the intelligent and automated adjustment of city parking lots.
Public lots are outfitted with sensors in each space and at each entrance and exit. The purpose of the equipment is to gather information on the number of available spaces, the average amount of time each car spends in the lot, and other relevant data. Using this information as well as data on nearby events, traffic problems, and other conditions, the lots automatically adjust their pricing to meet demand. Although drivers may balk at the prospect of parking rates going up and down on a daily basis, the technology typically leads to an improved travel experience.
In San Francisco, the SFPark public works project incorporates these price adjustments, as well as web and mobile apps to guide drivers to the optimal parking lot for their needs. The program has successfully reduced the time it takes for drivers to find a spot, as well as the number of parking tickets issued to drivers who give up and park illegally. Other cities are following suit, and similar programs are underway in New York and elsewhere.
To urban drivers, nothing is more frustrating than traffic. The control and reduction of this modern day scourge has been the subject of countless studies and papers, but until now, there wasn’t much to be done about it from a technological standpoint.
The Internet of Things, with its ability to collect and analyze data from any source, even passing vehicles, has changed that. The advent of modern traffic monitoring techniques has been pioneered by IBM and other large organizations. IBM describes a system called IBM Intelligent Transportation in which sensors and other equipment gathers data not just from cameras and motion detectors triggered by passing cars, but also by the mobile phones and GPS devices carried within the vehicles themselves.
Using this data, IBM can construct a real time picture of traffic conditions within an urban area, as well as predict slowdowns and problems based on historical trends. City planners and other officials can then use this data to easily see where congestion starts, and then take steps to resolve it. Intelligent Transportation is part of IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative, which hopes to leverage technology to improve our lives across the board. Even while sitting in the car.
Smart Street Lighting
Street lighting has in the past been based on simple timers. They’re effective but not optimal, and often require on-site maintenance to adjust times to fit the lengthening or shortening day over the course of the year. Although the prospect of leaving a light on for an hour of daylight might not sound like much of a problem, it adds up when considering an entire city.
IoT technology excels at energy efficiency. After all, one of the earliest applications of the Internet of Things was for home lighting control. It’s not surprising therefore that this concept has been scaled up to optimize street lights across the world. Smart street lighting, as it is known, employs low-energy LED bulbs and IoT-enabled sensors to turn on lights only when they are needed.
A leader in the space is Verizon Enterprise with their Intelligent Lighting solution. Intended for cities, college campuses, and other public spaces, Verizon can cut energy costs while keeping citizens safe in the light. Other firms such as Telensa offer similar packages, leading to the kind of healthy competition that always results in an improved product for us, the end users.
The interesting thing about the Internet of Things as it applies to infrastructure is that we are all end users. After all, everyone lives somewhere, and these technologies are seeing an amazing degree of acceptance everywhere they appear. One of the beautiful things about IoT is that it is, above all, accessible. Everyone benefits from it without any special training or expense. It truly is a technology to change the world for the better.