Many cities in the United States are experiencing different kinds of growth and change: populations are booming, buildings are becoming modernized and the general make-up of these cities is undergoing a transformation into a smart, connected and resilient infrastructure.
The possibilities for smart cities are really only confined by the constraints of one’s imagination. Although much attention is paid to the consumer side of ‘smart’ development – think apps, home appliances, smart cars, etc. – the mechanisms that do the actual connecting of the connected world are far more industrial in scope. We’ve covered many aspects of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) on this blog, including applications in oil and gas, utilities, precision agriculture and UAVs. Each of those vertical industries can be incorporated into a discussion about smart cities, but one area we’re exploring today is the use of IIoT technology and automation technology to solve widespread civil or municipality problems.
One thing that affects urban settings across the board is traffic management. Large cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Houston and, increasingly, smaller cities experiencing growth like Austin and San Francisco, are inundated with traffic problems like flow, congestion and overuse. Obviously, traffic problems are not unique to the United States, and other countries have taken creative approaches to problem solving, such as hackathons, increasing public transportation, convincing drivers to stay off main roads, or building a better pedestrian infrastructure, like bike paths (generating solar power, at that). The underlying factor for these solutions, however, is the use of data to collect and synthesize information into effective solutions.
In 2011, Boulder, Colo., besieged by a problematic daily influx of vehicles into and out of the city, decided to try to address the problem by deploying wireless M2M radios to eliminate the need for telephone lines in its traffic control systems. The radios were used to monitor traffic signal systems and further automate signals to ensure a continuous and efficient flow of traffic no matter the time of day. One of the hallmarks of the project was cost efficiency, a necessary component for any local government or municipality project. However, the greater implication is that of a smaller city, facing a universal problem, and turning to the use of IIoT technology to try to solve the problem. The theme of data use holds true in this Boulder scenario as well. Not only is the city using M2M technology to help maintain traffic flow, but it is also simultaneously collecting data that can be analyzed and used to better predict and perfect future traffic-related situations.
Traffic problems can seem a bit mundane when examined next to the more alluring futurism of driverless vehicles and smart homes, but it’s these kinds of infrastructure-related problems that IIoT technology is so well-suited to solve. It is highly unlikely that the trends we see today of population growth and urban centralization are going to reverse themselves any time soon, and with those trends comes very real issues like housing and transportation. Innovative and creative solutions can not only help address some of those puzzles today, but establish a sound base for continuing to solving these and other problems well into the future.
Image credit: “Big City Life (Berlin),” Matthias Ripp via Flickr, used under Commercial-Use creative commons. The image was slightly cropped.