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How the IoT Can Help Cities

We hear about the IoT (Internet of Things) quite frequently these days, and it's mostly with regard to a few specifics areas. Smart homes, smart offices, transforming industries, and personal health and entertainment devices are among the things that tend to dominate the conversation. By nature, however, the IoT actually reaches into plenty of additional aspects of our day-to-day lives, and in particular it's starting to have a significant impact on our cities.

Below, we'll look at some of the factors that are starting to emerge in the interest of creating "smart" cities that conserve energy, make us safer, and keep things running as efficiently as possible.

Smart Street Lighting

It's arguable that there's no bigger development in the making of "smart cities" than the introduction of street lights equipped with sensors. This is because smarter light bulbs—long-lasting LED bulbs and those that can turn off when there's no one around who needs them—have the potential to save cities enormous amounts of money on energy costs. Beyond that, the possibilities for light poles equipped with sensors is nearly endless. Because these poles are already situated throughout cities and are already equipped to power electronic devices, they're uniquely suited to serve as nodes for intelligent monitoring of everything from pedestrian traffic patterns to atmospheric conditions. In a matter of years, light poles fitted with sensors could play huge roles in how our cities operate.

Information Beacons

The concept of information beacons is a little bit difficult to understand. It's outlined to some extent in this post on smart city applications, but the best way to get a grasp of it may be by comparing it to the Pokémon Go phenomenon. If you happen to have played that game or seen others play it, you've probably gotten to know about Pokéstops. These are locations around the world at which you can refuel your supply of needed items, and people seek them out to gather whatever that they need. You won't be able to draw actual items out of smart city information beacons, but the idea is that they're strategically placed locations around town at which you can gather the information you might need to go about your day. That could mean public transportation schedules, weather forecasts, or even information about which stores are offering sales (and access to special deals and coupons, etc.). This will be done through the beacon's interaction with your own smartphone or tablet device, automatically connecting you with the city in a deeper fashion.

Improving Driver Performance

This aspect of the smart city revolution does have a human component to it, but it's still a measure with the potential to make a significant impact on safety and congestion on city streets. Specifically, we're talking about the improvement of driver performance where fleet and delivery vehicles are concerned. As a sort of spin-off of the developing IoT fleet tracking business, an app has been developed that automatically gives drivers valuable information about their vehicles. This includes voice-guided navigation, a full day's delivery schedule, performance feedback and analysis, etc. Drivers are very busy and can be frantic and unintentionally dangerous in city settings, and tools like this one help to alleviate some of the hassle of making deliveries in crowded urban areas, effectively making the roads less chaotic.

Smart Waste Management

This is one of the best examples of how IoT technologies can go to work for us without our conscious engagement. When you think about trash and recycling collection today, you imagine a set schedule: a whole street's worth of people rolling cans to the curb on a designated evening, so that the trash and recycling can be picked up the next morning. But with the IoT, waste management can be made far more efficient. Some cities are beginning to place sensors in collection bins, which in turn can automatically communicate when those bins are full. This means waste pickup vehicles are deployed only when needed and only on automatically optimized routes. In the long run, it will save fuel, preserve vehicles, and even cut back on the noise caused by passing trucks.

There are many more examples than just these few, but you'll notice that lighting, beacons, transportation and waste management cover very different aspects of urban life. This should demonstrate how thoroughly IoT applications can change and improve city living.

by Sara Upton
on 10/06/2016

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