How IoT is influencing the infrastructure of smart cities
IoT strategies are becoming part of a smart city infrastructure that can battle the tension of city growth, from traffic regulator to environmental matters.
With the continuous growth of population in cities, Internet of Things technologies are becoming an interesting option to turn to in order to alleviate this chaos. Smart City has been a buzzword on recent tech events. The use of connected devices has led people to think about interconnecting functions within cities.
So, what is a Smart City?
A Smart City will increase efficiency, productivity, ecological awareness, it will reduce pollution and improve quality of life in a world of increasing urban complexity.
A Smart City typically can include all or some of the terms listed below:
- Smart energy production and conservation
- Smart mobility
- Smart economy
- Smart living
- ICT economics
- Smart environment
- Smart governance
- Standard of living
- Smart society
A city to be labeled Smart, it must have implemented at least all of the three initiatives below:
- A strong and reliable communication network, preferably based on fiber optics.
- Government (Local and Central) involvement to provide added value to the citizens.
- Initiatives to promote the use of renewable energy, waste management, air quality monitoring, traffic flow and congestion etc.
Smart City concept
Smart City market is estimated at hundreds of billion dollars by 2025, with an annual spending reaching nearly 16 billion. This market springs from the synergic interconnection of key industry and service sectors, such as Smart Governance, Smart Mobility, Smart Utilities, Smart Buildings, and Smart Environment. These sectors have also been considered in the European Smart Cities project (http://www.smart-cities.eu) to define a ranking criterion that can be used to assess the level of “smartness” of European cities.
On the technical side, the most relevant issue consists in the noninteroperability of the heterogeneous technologies currently used in city and urban developments.
In this respect, the IoT vision can become the building block to realize a unified urban scale ICT platform, thus unleashing the potential of the Smart City vision.
Finally, concerning the financial dimension, a clear business model is still lacking, although some initiative to fill this gap has been recently undertaken. The situation is worsened by the adverse global economic situation, which has determined a general shrinking of investments on public services. This situation prevents the potentially huge Smart City market from becoming reality. A possible way out of this impasse is to first develop those services that conjugate social utility with very clear return on investment, such as smart parking and smart buildings, and will hence act as catalyzers for the other added value services.
In the following, we overview some of the services that might be enabled by an urban IoT technology and that are of potential interest in the Smart City context because they can realize the win–win situation of increasing the quality and enhancing the services offered to the citizens while bringing an economical advantage for the city administration in terms of reduction of the operational costs.
Waste management is a primary issue in many modern cities, due to both the cost of the service and the problem of the storage of garbage in landfills. A deeper penetration of ICT solutions in this domain, however, may result in significant savings and economical and ecological advantages.
For instance, the use of intelligent waste containers, which detect the level of load and allow for an optimization of the collector trucks route, can reduce the cost of waste collection and improve the quality of recycling. To realize such a smart waste management service, the IoT shall connect the end devices, i.e., intelligent waste containers, to a control center where an optimization software processes the data and determines the optimal management of the collector truck fleet.
The European Union officially adopted a 20-20-20 Renewable Energy Directive setting climate change reduction goals for the next decade. The targets call for a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, a 20% cut in energy consumption through improved energy efficiency by 2020, and a 20% increase in the use of renewable energy by 2020. To such an extent, an urban IoT can provide means to monitor the quality of the air in crowded areas, parks, or fitness trails. In addition, communication facilities can be provided to let health applications running on joggers’ devices be connected to the infrastructure. In such a way, people can always find the healthiest path for outdoor activities and can be continuously connected to their preferred personal training application. The realization of such a service requires that air quality and pollution sensors be deployed across the city and that the sensor data be made publicly available to citizens.
Noise can be seen as a form of acoustic pollution as much as carbon oxide (CO) is for air. In that sense, the city authorities have already issued specific laws to reduce the amount of noise in the city centre at specific hours. An urban IoT can offer a noise monitoring service to measure the amount of noise produced at any given hour in the places that adopt the service. Besides building a space-time map of the noise pollution in the area, such a service can also be used to enforce public security, by means of sound detection algorithms that can recognize, for instance, the noise of glass crashes or brawls. This service can hence improve both the quiet of the nights in the city and the confidence of public establishment owners, although the installation of sound detectors or environmental microphones is quite controversial, because of the obvious privacy concerns for this type of monitoring.
City Energy Consumption
Together with the air quality monitoring service, an urban IoT may provide a service to monitor the energy consumption of the whole city, thus enabling authorities and citizens to get a clear and detailed view of the amount of energy required by the different services (public lighting, transportation, traffic lights, control cameras, heating/cooling of public buildings, and so on). In turn, this will make it possible to identify the main energy consumption sources and to set priorities in order to optimize their behavior.
In order to obtain such a service, power draw monitoring devices must be integrated with the power grid in the city. In addition, it will also be possible to enhance these service with active functionalities to control local power production structures (e.g., photovoltaic panels).
On the same line of air quality and noise monitoring, a possible Smart City service that can be enabled by urban IoT consists in monitoring the traffic congestion in the city.
Even though camera-based traffic monitoring systems are already available and deployed in many cities, low-power widespread communication can provide a denser source of information.
Traffic monitoring may be realized by using the sensing capabilities and GPS installed on modern vehicles, and also adopting a combination of air quality and acoustic sensors along a given road. This information is of great importance for city authorities and citizens: to organize and to discipline traffic and to send officers where needed and for the latter to plan in advance the route to reach the office or to better schedule a shopping trip to the city center.
The smart parking service is based on road sensors and intelligent displays that will direct vehicle drivers and motorists along the best path for parking in the city. The benefits deriving from this service are manifold: faster time to locate a parking slot means fewer CO emission from the car, lesser traffic congestion, and happier citizens. The smart parking service can be directly integrated in the urban IoT infrastructure, because many companies in Europe and USA are providing market products for this application. Furthermore, by using short-range communication technologies, such as Radio Frequency Identifiers (RFID) or Near Field Communication (NFC), it is possible to realize an electronic verification system of parking permits in slots reserved for residents or disabled, thus offering a better service to citizens that can legitimately use those slots and an efficient tool to quickly spot violations.
The optimization of the street lighting efficiency is an important feature. In particular, this service can optimize the street lamp intensity according to the time of the day, the weather condition, and the presence of people. In order to properly work, such a service needs to include the street lights into the Smart City infrastructure. It is also possible to exploit the increased number of connected spots to provide WiFi connection to citizens. In addition, a fault detection system will be easily realized on top of the street light controllers.
Structural Health of Buildings
Proper maintenance of the historical buildings of a city requires the continuous monitoring of the actual conditions of each building and identification of the areas that are most subject to the impact of external agents.
The urban IoT may provide a distributed database of building structural integrity measurements, collected by suitable sensors located in the buildings, such as vibration and deformation sensors to monitor the building stress, atmospheric agent sensors in the surrounding areas to monitor pollution levels, and temperature and humidity sensors to have a complete characterization of the environmental conditions. This database should reduce the need for expensive periodic structural testing by human operators and will allow targeted and proactive maintenance and restoration actions. Finally, it will be possible to combine vibration and seismic readings in order to better study and understand the impact of light earthquakes on city buildings.
This database can be made publicly accessible in order to make the citizens aware of the care taken in preserving the city historical heritage. The practical realization of this service, however, requires the installation of sensors in the buildings and surrounding areas and their interconnection to a control system, which may require an initial investment in order to create the needed infrastructure.
Automation and Salubrity of Public Buildings
Another important application of IoT technologies is the monitoring of the energy consumption and the salubrity of the environment in public buildings (schools, administration offices, and museums) by means of different types of sensors and actuators that control lights, temperature, and humidity. By controlling these parameters, indeed, it is possible to enhance the level of comfort of the persons that live in these environments, which may also have a positive return in terms of productivity, while reducing the costs for heating/cooling.
IoT and Smart Cities
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a recent communication paradigm that envisions a near future, in which the objects of everyday life will be equipped with microcontrollers, transceivers for digital communication, and suitable protocol stacks that will make them able to communicate with one another and with the users, becoming an integral part of the Internet.
The IoT concept, hence, aims at making the Internet even more immersive and pervasive. Furthermore, by enabling easy access and interaction with a wide variety of devices such as, for instance, home appliances, surveillance cameras, monitoring sensors, actuators, displays, vehicles, and so on, the IoT will foster the development of a number of applications that make use of the potentially enormous amount and variety of data generated by such objects to provide new services to citizens, companies, and public administrations. This paradigm indeed finds application in many different domains, such as home automation, industrial automation, medical aids, mobile healthcare, elderly assistance, intelligent energy management and smart grids, automotive, traffic management, and many others.
However, such a heterogeneous field of application makes the identification of solutions capable of satisfying the requirements of all possible application scenarios a formidable challenge. This difficulty has led to the proliferation of different and, sometimes, incompatible proposals for the practical realization of IoT systems. Therefore, from a system perspective, the realization of an IoT network, together with the required backend network services and devices, still lacks an established best practice because of its novelty and complexity. In addition to the technical difficulties, the adoption of the IoT paradigm is also hindered by the lack of a clear and widely accepted business model that can attract investments to promote the deployment of these technologies.
Although there is not yet a formal and widely accepted definition of “Smart City,” the final aim is to make a better use of the public resources, increasing the quality of the services offered to the citizens, while reducing the operational costs of the public administrations. This objective can be pursued by the deployment of an urban IoT, i.e., a communication infrastructure that provides unified, simple, and economical access to a plethora of public services, thus unleashing potential synergies and increasing transparency to the citizens.
An urban IoT, indeed, may bring a number of benefits in the management and optimization of traditional public services, such as transport and parking, lighting, surveillance and maintenance of public areas, preservation of cultural heritage, garbage collection, salubrity of hospitals, and school.
Furthermore, the availability of different types of data, collected by a pervasive urban IoT, may also be exploited to increase the transparency and promote the actions of the local government toward the citizens, enhance the awareness of people about the status of their city, stimulate the active participation of the citizens in the management of public administration, and also stimulate the creation of new services upon those provided by the IoT.
Urban IoT Architecture
Most of Smart City services are based on a centralized architecture, where a dense and heterogeneous set of peripheral devices deployed over the urban area generate different types of data that are then delivered through suitable communication technologies to a control center, where data storage and processing are performed.
A primary characteristic of an urban IoT infrastructure, hence, is its capability of integrating different technologies with the existing communication infrastructures in order to support a progressive evolution of the IoT, with the interconnection of other devices and the realization of novel functionalities and services.
Another fundamental aspect is the necessity to make (part of) the data collected by the urban IoT easily accessible by authorities and citizens, to increase the responsiveness of authorities to city problems, and to promote the awareness and the participation of citizens in public matters.
Benefits of a Smart City for Key Stakeholders
When a project encompassing the dimensions of a Smart City is in the start up phase it is imperative the most important and influential players are on board. Each target group may benefit differently from the Smart City.
Benefits for the municipality
- Improving competitiveness (attracts businesses and people to the area).
- Financing and facilitating in infrastructures capable of surviving any short term directional electoral changes or other critical incidents.
- Reduce Operating expenses and Capital expenditures by making working processes more efficient.
- Increasing public security using video surveillance in public areas.
- Real time information of public traffic, parking availability and traffic upheaval due to road works.
- Making the city attractive for people to live in.
Benefits for the citizens
- Shorter travel time.
- Increased security.
- Reduction in pollution.
- 24/7 public service desk.
- Fast access to all cloud service.