Nick Sacke, Head of IoT Solutions, Comms365, discusses some priority challenges local authorities face & how IoT deployments can be rapidly rolled out & scaled to overcome & exceed such challenges
Local authorities continue to face mounting pressures from the government on wide-ranging initiatives, from targets on climate change to improving social care and overhauling waste management – all with budgets squeezed tighter than ever. Since July 2020, we have seen tremendous interest by local governments in internet of things (IoT) technology solution deployments as a mechanism they can use to help meet their aggressive budget and social goals, achieving scale by addressing multiple use cases at once. Here, I will discuss some of the priority challenges local authorities are facing, and how IoT deployments can be rapidly rolled out and scaled to not just overcome such challenges, but exceed them.
Healthcare & assisted living
There remains a singular challenge within healthcare and assisted living, which is to be able to deliver at scale affordable health and social care for an increasingly ageing and vulnerable population. Technology can be a great enabler of this by helping to automate the mapping of activities into a profile around an individual. By taking regular snapshots of what their day-to-day life is like when they normally make a cup of tea or get out of bed, this information can be collected and mapped onto a profile, which can then be analysed and shared every day with the care organisation and local authority. This insight helps professionals to detect any potential trends and changes in behaviour that may indicate potential problems in near real-time as and when they arise, in turn, enabling streamlining and scale to operations by intervening earlier and with a targeted focus.
Targeted intervention allows expansion of existing resources and a rapid return on investment in care-assistive technology. By flagging any issues earlier and preventing the escalation of problems while the individual is at home, the need for them to go to the hospital for check-ups or treatment is mitigated in turn, reducing pressure on the public purse. For example, if sensors detect a person hasn’t got out of bed for a while after they usually would, a carer can be sent to visit them. Without that timely intervention, the individual’s health could have deteriorated, resulting in hospital admission, or even worse. This has now been proven in field trials which have, at the time of writing, saved at least one life.
As well as monitoring the physical wellbeing of the individual, environmental information can also be tracked, including temperature and humidity. If there’s a change in such parameters, it can affect the vulnerable in profound ways. The temperature and humidity in the room need to be appropriate for each individual need. At a basic level, this gives the patient comfort in knowing their environment is suitable for healing, but also mitigates against further potential issues, such as bacteria, infection and high CO2 levels which may enable a breeding ground for COVID-19 and other infections.
Collecting and analysing behavioural and clinical data can empower caregivers with more meaningful information, enabling them to intervene at the right time and deliver targeted individual care. Future developments in technology are expanding to biometric monitoring by putting sensors on the body to monitor vital signs – from heart rate to temperature and even the pH of the skin, for those who are unwell to those who have exited the hospital – taking healthcare directly into the home. This provides a mechanism to help the NHS with extending their care beyond the hospital, with another significant return on investment.
It’s well publicised that as a nation, we are still producing far too much waste. The old processes for collecting waste from homes and public places are not efficient enough, leaving councils and third-party contractors with a huge challenge. So how can technology help?
Sensor technology can not only indicate how full a bin is, but it can help in the building of a data profile, in turn, creating an optimally efficient route to collect waste from the right bins, at the right time. These sensors can also detect temperature, to see if somebody has thrown something burning in the container, as well as the bin tipping over or being misplaced. Data profiling will provide not only a more efficient collections schedule, but also identify hotspot areas with potential problems including fly-tipping.
Technology is also becoming more efficient at determining different types of waste, especially within underground storage, that can be particularly useful for recycling efforts. By deploying IoT solutions, sensors can check how much glass is in a particular container, by comparing the sonic ‘signature’ via intelligent algorithms for different types of waste materials.
IoT can also help third party contractors plan in advance by knowing how much waste they will be collecting, which has the potential to revolutionise payment models for contractors that are paid by weight. This technology will not only determine when the best time is to collect the bins, but also how much they are collecting by real-time monitoring of waste in the bin lorry itself, which can help the business to forecast revenue.
With 50,000 fewer shops on UK high streets than a decade ago and a decline which is continuing, local authorities are looking to alternative initiatives to encourage people back to the high street. If shoppers are looking to travel to physical stores once more, the parking experience should be painless – or else they’ll just return to online shopping.
It’s estimated that motorists spend two months of their lifetime searching for a parking space – what if this could be cut down with the use of technology? What if your phone tells you in real-time where a parking space is? And better yet, what if you could reserve this space, or set up a subscription model to park monthly? It’s all about data collection and a better, more informed use of this data. By incorporating electric charging and disabled bays, as well as the use of innovative technology, re-engineered and revitalised parking solutions will drive revenue and provide more efficient and customer-pleasing services.
Lighting, pollution & air quality
Within the UK market, we’re seeing a big push towards creating even smarter lighting installations. The deployment of low energy bulbs has already been completed by many councils, but being able to switch on and off certain sections of the lighting estate depending on the activity can go much further in reducing energy consumption.
To do this, streetlights need to have interfaced ‘smart’ controllers that receive and transmit wireless signals to the lighting unit. The push towards smart lighting will use low power IoT networks to connect the lights, which will be undertaken on a huge scale, as even the smallest councils will enable over 10,000 streetlights. With such a focus on reducing energy consumption to meet national targets, this will soon become a priority.
As we strive towards a greener future, and with heavy regulations coming into play around air quality, there is a need for local authorities to be more proactive and involved in the health of their citizens. By tracking environmental elements such as pollution levels, CO2 concentrations in offices and classrooms and chemical pollutants, environmental monitoring will become a big part of both our indoor and outdoor future.
With consistent technological developments, IoT technology is advancing to meet ever more stringent challenges and requirements. We’re not only seeing an uptake in interest and the use of these solutions, but the actual technology itself is becoming increasingly adaptable, cost-effective, simple to deploy and maintain.
Hyper-efficient, agile, deployment and maintenance models are the prime focus. When an upgrade or fix is required, councils don’t want to remove it all – only a part. This means that as well as becoming more efficient, operational models and processes need to become adaptable, more automated, user-friendly and streamlined. The value of technology is now being understood, but there are now moves to make the design and deployment technology even more user-friendly, creating a better customer experience and collecting valuable data for insight. The guiding principle for deploying technology as an enabler of these more streamlined processes is simplicity and invisibility to the user, to ensure any potential barriers to adoption are removed.