by Thor Olavsrud

Internet of Things poised to transform cities

Oct 31, 2016
AnalyticsGovernmentGovernment IT

Local, state and federal government officials agree that smart cities initiatives, enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT), will deliver cost and operational efficiencies.

smart cities iot
Credit: Thinkstock

The internet of things (IoT) is set to transform municipal life, according to government officials surveyed by the nonprofit trade association Computing Industry Trade Association (CompTIA).

“Cities and city leaders are thinking more holistically about different uses of technology that are integrated and bringing different aspects of the city together into a unified whole,” says Tim Herbert, senior vice president, research and market intelligence, CompTIA.

“Improved decision-making made possible through new or better streams of data ranks as the highest perceived benefit,” he adds.

How to build a smarter city

In June and July of this year, CompTIA surveyed 172 government personnel with some degree of technology decision-making responsibility for its Building Smarter Cities report. It found that one-half of local, state and federal government personnel believe IoT and the smart cities enabled by IoT will definitely provide value. A further 39 percent felt IoT and smart cities would probably provide value.

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The survey found that 11 percent of government entities already have a formal IoT initiative under way, and 25 percent have some type of pilot project in the works. Applications in energy management, public safety and transportation are gaining the most traction, though Herbert expects that as the market matures, we can expect offerings like cities-as-a-service to gain popularity. To break that down, he says, expect tech firms with expertise in integration, APIs, cloud computing, data and security to play a key role in facilitating smart cities’ growth by providing end-to-end solutions.

“Even the tech-savviest government staff may quickly find themselves in unfamiliar territory when it comes to systems integration,” Herbert says. “A smart cities pilot managed by internal staff may become unmanageable when it expands beyond the pilot phase.”

A few key examples smart cities initiatives include the following:

  • Water management. The city of Houston was recently losing about 15 billion gallons of water per year (about 15 percent of its water) from leaky pipes. It embedded sensors and intelligent pump control systems, allowing it to better regulate the flow of water and identify issues. Similar smart cities solutions could include: water quality, irrigation, stormwater runoff, flooding and household water management.
  • Energy conservation. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has announced its new Real Time Energy Management (RTEM) program, which uses sensors, smart meters and big data analytics to optimize the energy usage of commercial buildings. New York State and utilities in the region are also working to upgrade the power grid.
  • Transportation. Columbus, Ohio, recent winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, is using part of its $40 million prize to deploy electric self-driving shuttles operating in conjunction with a new rapid transit center. CompTIA says the system will enable better vehicle-to-vehicle data exchange and communication with traffic signals and other transportation infrastructure.
  • Public Safety. Copenhagen, Denmark, has replaced more than half its street lights with energy-efficient smart LED lights. Sensors and connectivity to the city’s network enable auto-dimming based on time of day or the presence of a full moon, and the ability to increase brightness when they sense walkers or bikers. Related public safety smart cities projects could include video surveillance systems with advanced analytics, forest fire fighting drones and incident reporting and monitoring systems for citizens.
  • Environment. CITISENSE, a consortium of 14 European nations, is deploying a network of ‘citizen observatories’ to monitor air quality through wearable sensors. CompTIA notes similar crowdsourcing approaches are underway in Beijing and several other cities.

“Given the many layers of agencies, jurisdictions and constituencies, interest in data-driven decision-making is not surprising,” Herbert says. “Even small improvements in empowering government workers with the right data at the right time can pay dividends.”

CompTIA predicts that smart cities and IoT will especially affect waste management, the power grid and utilities and public safety over the next two to four years. Respondents also cited transportation (72 percent), transparency and open data (74 percent) and parks, recreation and the environment (74 percent).