How Big Data and Internet of Things Build Smart Cities

How Big Data and Internet of Things Build Smart Cities

“Smart City” is a term we’ll hear a lot more of in the coming years. It’s estimated that by 2020, we’ll spend $400 billion a year building them. Cities being “smart” is not about algorithms only, of course; there are many things that can be done without too much monitoring. And, above all, there needs to be an overall strategy in place, otherwise, we might end up with tons of pilot projects that we don’t really know what to do with. As the population is growing, people are increasingly shifting to urban areas. According to a 2014 UN report, 54% of the world’s population resides in urban areas, and this share is expected to go up to 66% by the year 2050. “Smart Cities” is this umbrella initiative that is designed to make urban areas more livable, agile and sustainable.

Smart City Platforms are Exciting, Impactful Applications

Smart City platforms represent some of the more exciting and impactful applications of real-time, intelligent Big Data systems. An interesting trend is that people are becoming more proficient in the mining of diverse data sources — geospatial and spatio-temporal data, unstructured text from news sources, social media and images. A Smart City is described as one that uses digital technologies or information and communication technologies to enhance the quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens. The idea is to embed the advances in technology and data collection which are making the Internet of Things (IoT) a reality into the infrastructures of the environments where we live. Already, large companies such as Cisco and IBM are working with universities and civic planning authorities to develop data-driven systems for transport, waste management, law enforcement and energy use to make them more efficient and improve the lives of citizens.

We will interact and get information from these smart systems using our smartphones, watches and other wearables, and crucially, the machines will also speak to each other. Garbage trucks will be alerted to the location of refuse that needs collecting, and sensors in our cars will direct us towards available parking spaces. Every object will have an IP address of its own via sensors that are connected to it. These sensors, in turn, will exchange data using cloud technology via the Internet.

These Cities are Seen as the Cities of the Future

Cities will be able to fetch responses using Big Data, like the amount of traffic rolling at a particular stoplight, areas where trash cans are full and ready to be picked up or how much water is used every day. This type of information can be collected through wearables, smartphones, cameras or sensors. These cities are seen as the cities of the future, with lesser waste, lesser pollution and fewer problems. These cities are also designed to save large amounts of energy in order to help solve power crises. From New York to Los Angeles, the IoT has helped tackle seemingly impossible problems like traffic congestion, water theft and lesser pollution. There may soon be cities completely covered by Wi-Fi because of IoT.

Technologists and analysts are on a path to discovery, obtaining answers on how technology and the data collected can make our cities more efficient and cost effective. The current model adopted for IoT is to attract businesses to develop software and hardware applications in this domain. The model also encourages businesses to put their creativity to use for the greater good, making cities safer, smarter and more sustainable.

Smart Cities Taking Advantage of Big Data and the Internet of Things

Here are some of the most enchanting ways that cities are using Big Data and IoT to improve the quality of life.

  1. Los Angeles, Calif. is controlling traffic lights and reducing traffic congestion with this technology. The city uses traffic cameras and magnetic road sensors to control approximately 4,500 traffic signals in the city, reducing traffic cramming by up to 16%. Many city centres in Europe are banning the private car. So, there are now and will be more places that are free of traffic. Mobility – the speed and directness of travel – and the density of activities are the two determinants of a city’s accessibility and thus economic vitality. Moving people faster and more directly in order to expand accessibility should be the primary mission of transport agencies.
  2. Porto, a city in Portugal, is testing a new way to create mobile Wi-Fi hotspots all over the city with the help of a tech startup called Veniam. The company has installed Wi-Fi transmitters in over 600 city buses and taxis, creating the largest Wi-Fi hotspot in the world. These routers provide free Wi-Fi to its citizens as a public utility. The data collected from this Internet usage can be used to offset the cost of the Wi-Fi in other areas. For instance, the sensors installed in the city help waste management and saves man-hours by identifying which garbage cans actually need emptying.
  3. New York is set to be the world’s first “quantified community”. All residents and environmental details will be tracked to help monitor pedestrian traffic flow. And facilitation and detection of rubbish levels in containers will optimize the trash collection routes. Also, there is no need for garbage trucks as the refuse is sucked in the household itself and transported into sewage treatment centres, and eventually, they will generate power from the waste. The city will analyze how much solid waste is collected and what proportion of it is recyclable. This system will also collect data on residents’ health and activity levels through a mobile app.
  4. Long Beach, Calif. uses smart water meters to detect illegal watering in real time, aiding homeowners to cut their water usage by as much as 80%. This is a necessity for cities going through acute drought, and at a time when government is imposing tough restrictions on water usage. Utilities are positioned well to drive deeper relationships with their consumers, deliver new types of energy and Smart City services and help further the economic development of their communities.
  5. Boulder, Colo. had Xcel Energy install smart meters in customers’ homes to test “smart grids”. This will allow users to look at their energy usage in real time simply by logging onto a website. This smart grid will help power companies to predict future usage and enable better planning for forthcoming infrastructure and energy requirements. By connecting devices, vehicles and infrastructure everywhere in a city, governments and their partners can reduce energy and water consumption, keep people moving efficiently and improve safety and quality of life. From monitoring air quality, to monitoring the energy consumption of the whole city, the authorities and citizens 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).
  6. Copenhagen, Denmark enlisted IoT systems to power its street lights, replacing 20,000 LED lights with power from renewable energy sources.
  7. Santander, a city in Spain, cut energy and waste management costs by 25% and 20% respectively, aided by 12,500 IEEE, GPRS and RFID sensors installed throughout the city.
  8. Songdo, a city in South Korea, has taken a step towards improved trash collection, as well. It is a city built from scratch, and smart technology was integrated at the outset. There are terminals in every building which allows monitoring and regulating supply and demand of energy through a smart energy grid. The city is partnering with Cisco to convert solid waste into fuel, by sorting, recycling, burying or burning the dumped waste. Cisco is also testing home appliances and utilities to enable them to be connected and controlled by a smartphone.
  9. San Jose, Calif., in its boldest step yet, has taken toward becoming a Smart City, where services such as garbage pickup, irrigation, electricity and parking are controlled and monitored through the Internet and data-collecting software to make them, ideally, cheaper and better.
  10. Glasgow, Scotland is focusing on transport management and wanting to collect more data from traffic or crime and disorder and analyze them all together to get more value out of it. Moreover, cloud-based Big Data automation such as this enables smooth flow through real-time traffic maps. Traffic can be reduced with systems that detect the nearest available parking slot. Through mobile interfaces, bus riders could see real-time positions and get notifications in time for the bus. More sensors attached to the lights can measure data like noise levels, footfalls and air pollution which also helps the city to understand where to keep the focus for improvements. Road pricing is slowly being adopted by more cities globally. The big opportunity for change in the U.S. comes with fleet electrification, which requires switching away from the gas tax (since electric vehicles do not use gasoline) as a source of road funding.

We are in an early evolutionary stage in the way cities are designed and managed. There are several more Smart Cities across countries like China, UK, South Korea, Dubai and some parts of Europe which have adopted the idea of making their cities digitally smarter with the help of IoT technology.

It is important to remember that the Smart City is a world comprised of both the physical and virtual aspects of infrastructure, both of which need to be tied together to be able to manage cities in a more efficient way. New technologies like Big Data and IoT can save cities money from energy saving as well as create value for citizens when traffic is better regulated through collected data. With the integration of Big Data and IoT, our cities will become smarter, generate data that provides useful information and revolutionize our way of life.

Article written by Raj Kosaraju
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