Nathan McGregor, senior vice president, Asia Pacific at Cradlepoint discusses smart cities and the opportunities of IoT
For many years now, we’ve heard predictions that cities would become technological hubs of sci-fi proportions. While few urban areas have transformed themselves into anything as cinematic as Blade Runner, and The Jetsons lifestyle still seems a way off, a wave of advancements and pioneering applications are breathing new life into the Smart City concept.
A Smart City harnesses technology to provide better governance and improve quality of life for citizens, and one key component for Smart Cities is connectivity. Breakthroughs in wireless technology — including 5G, LTE, Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN — are helping to drive the renaissance in the Smart City movement. In Australia, infrastructure investments from state and federal governments have also created opportunities for technological innovation to be central to the design of many new public spaces. The ubiquity of mobile devices — as well as the ongoing progressive shutdown of 3G connectivity across Australia — means that 5G connectivity has become increasingly available and accessible in more parts of the country, creating opportunities for the use of Internet of Things (IoT) applications in Smart City settings.
Life’s a beach with IoT
In Sydney, The Randwick Council Smart Beach Project aims to apply smart technologies to optimise the visitor experience at the beach — including digital aquatic safety boards, improved water and landside safety, traffic and parking management, and amenities servicing. It combines Council and other open data to present a unified view to beachgoers.
Environment NSW’s beach water quality program monitors recreational water quality at swimming sites in the Sydney region. Data generated from the project is open for reuse, and this allows Randwick to display water quality level on its Coogee Beach digital signboards.
Using smart sensors over LoRaWAN (a low-power long-range wide area network system), Randwick is able to provide real-time local weather information such as UV, air temperature, humidity, wind direction and wind speed. Using open data from the Bureau of Meteorology, Randwick can display the forecast daily maximum temperature alongside its own locally generated data.
Other IoT applications being used by Randwick Council include using Transport for NSW’s open data portal to ingest real-time bus arrival times at key stops along Coogee Beach, free Wi-Fi connectivity for the local community, and Smart Lockers providing real-time locker availability.
Randwick also has smart cooktops, equipped with smart sensor technologies, that provide beachgoers with real-time info on availability of BBQs at the beach. The council also uses sensor technology in bins to measure filling level, using this data to calculate the amount of waste generated by beachgoers at Coogee.
Smart Cities, clever option for sustainability
As part of the Switching on Darwin project in the Northern Territory, the city installed LED smart street lights throughout Darwin to enhance community safety, reduce energy consumption and provide dynamic lighting. The LED lights have smart capabilities, allowing brightness to be adjusted — for instance, the police might request brighter light to assist CCTV surveillance or to deter anti-social behaviour. The lights can also automatically detect if a storm comes in and adjust accordingly.
The installation of LED lights is expected to reduce energy consumption by approximately 60 to 70 percent.
Smart Cities for community engagement
As part of the City Sensing Data Futures project, Monash University collaborated with the City of Melbourne to combine research expertise with industry knowledge to learn about community values and uses for city data. New sensor technologies were tested to better plan for inclusive future Smart Cities — measuring weather conditions, pedestrian foot traffic, determining when bins need to be emptied and sensing on street parking. The testbed pilot released a report that looks at using technologies like Artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G to improve the quality of life for many residents by ethically capturing, analysing, applying and communicating data to empower local people.
The report sets out ten suggested approaches for cities to collect and use public data, which include:
- Developing and implementing public data sensing models in alignment with the core values of preserving trust, privacy, transparency, open communication and care;
- Incorporating local values and practices into city data sensing — for example, inclusion of quotes from local people or localised information;
- Creating multiple and playful ways to interact with city data sensing, to encourage engagement for people of all ages, abilities and diversities to access information;
- Encouraging two-way communication between the city and the public through established modes like accessing city data on smartphones via QR codes and providing notifications when data is gathered;
- Creating opportunities for people to receive self-care information through city data alerts like wearing sunscreen or real-time updates on park capacities during lockdowns;
- Encouraging a better understanding of public data as an asset that can provide service, education and a sense of community to locals.
An Endless Number of Smart City Applications
Other cities have begun implementing IoT sensors for a multitude of different applications — including the monitoring of smart water meters, which transmit water-use data wirelessly to collection hubs. This eliminates the expense of manual meter checks and shut offs.
Other applications under development seek to equip traffic lights with sensors that determine if emergency service vehicles are approaching and automatically provide them with green lights.
Building a Smart City from scratch
Of course, Smart Cities don’t happen if there’s no funding or buy-in from the public.
Leaders who wish to make the Smart City transformation should make sure they partner with citizens at every step of the journey to obtain the necessary support. The next step is to conduct a thorough assessment of the problems they wish to solve.
Because connectivity is one of the bedrock components of Smart Cities, city managers should involve experts in wireless communications as well as data analysis and storage, cloud and edge computing. These advisers can help determine costs and identify technologies that produce the most value.
For instance, a real opportunity for innovation in the Smart City space comes from the higher performance offered by 5G — the fifth-generation technology standard for cellular networks. This technology will prove handy for cities that work with autonomous vehicles, robotics or large video files to drive any more enhanced outcomes. Those applications will likely need all the capacity and the lower latency 5G offers. But applications like measuring water or pollution levels, with much lower data requirements, can be powered by 4G LTE or a slice of throttled 5G. Deploying full-scale 5G would quite simply be a waste of resources.
When deciding on where to spend taxpayer dollars, local councils and state governments should remember that flexibility is a critical factor in keeping technology current. Buying gear and software that easily integrates with equipment and applications from a wide range of vendors will avoid getting locked into one vendor’s walled garden and save money when it’s time to upgrade.
Councils and government departments should look for manufacturers that provide open APIs and work well with the top services — such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. Decision makers should worry less about technology bells and whistles, and more about whether the hardware and software they acquire generates real cost savings and — most importantly — improves the lives of citizens.