Real time data creating more value for smart cities

Real time data is helping smart cities to save costs, become more efficient and safer and even create new business revenues for locals.
Published: Mon 21 Nov 2016

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Cisco, which has promoted its smart city technologies for over two years has announced that 10 major cities are using its cloud-based service to connect to traffic, parking and environmental sensors in real time. The cities are Copenhagen, Paris, Kansas City, Mo.; Schenectady, N.Y.; Adelaide, Australia; Bucharest, Hungary; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Bangalore, India; Jaipur, India; and Trencin, Slovakia.

The insights from the data, collected from the Internet of Things sensors, are helping city agencies to run their operations more efficiently especially in emergency situations. They are also saving on costs, according to the networking giant which showcased its technology at the Smart City Expo World Congress 2016 in Barcelona.   Cisco has been working on the platform in stealth mode for three years.

Harnessing more value from a smart city

The Cisco Smart+Connected Digital Platform is creating more value in the smart city space with IoT, says Munish Khetrapal, managing director of solutions for smart and connected communities. He adds that real-time data is essential especially in an emergency situation  where a faster response-even only minutes faster- can potentially save “thousands of dollars."

He says that smart city networks and sensors should be designed to help prevent unnecessary accidents and time loss. For instance, drivers can be made aware of black ice patches in winter so that they know to drive more carefully or even change their route. This network can also be set up for dynamic billing so that a city applies a toll discount for drivers who choose a less congested route.

The platform supports the ability to securely connect data from all the operations in a city, including water management, traffic, parking, lighting, neighbourhood security and more. The real time data retrieved from these sensors will support more informed decision making and can reduce energy consumption levels.

In certain cities, some of the data will be shared with citizens and businesses. For example, retailers could see heat maps that show where the heaviest foot traffic is located near stores. But rest assured, Cisco says that this data will be anonymous to protect users' privacy. In the case of data from video sensors, faces will be blurred out.

Common interface connecting data

Many cities are working toward a common interface, or dashboard, to connect all the disparate sensor data. Cisco has created APIs (application programming interfaces) for third-party developers to create dashboards for city managers and other officials to use.

For instance, Paris is now using a dashboard from the Place de la Nation district to monitor parking, street lighting, traffic and crowds. The Paris dashboard can also indicate the number of people gathered in one tourist area and the average amount of time they stand there. This is done with video sensors that count people as well as their Smartphones and tablets connected to a Wi-Fi zone in an area.

Crowd data could also be used to automatically call for more buses or cabs to show up nearby. Using multiple data sets, traffic staff could access environmental sensor data to find ways to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, while improving emergency response times.

The idea of a smart city is to make it ‘super-simple’ for cities to securely connect new 'things' so that new information can be collected, analyzed and shared, says Cisco Senior Vice President Rowan Trollope.  

Khetrapal said cities can save million of dollars with Cisco's platform over building their own networks to connect data from sensors with servers. In the example of a service to monitor parking spaces, he estimated it would cost between $1 to $1.10 per day per parking space to install sensors and securely maintain the network. For a parking garage with 1,000 spaces, that would be about $365,000 annually.

Steve Hilton, an analyst at Mach Nation, said Cisco's smart city platform approach will help cities aggregate data that affects their operations to help improve efficiencies and long-term planning.

Smart city returns are ‘slow going’

According to Hilton, most cities are ‘siloed’ when it comes to parking and traffic and waste management. He says it’s challenging to get most cities to connect everything together at one time. He says that this is in effect, the ‘holy grail for smart cities.’

Vendors like Cisco, meanwhile, must prove a return on investment for cities using smart technology that is derived from lower electricity and water usage, or even reduced crime, Hilton said. The best ROI in smart city projects has come from installing energy-efficient streetlights that can be automatically dimmed at appropriate times, Hilton said. Yet, getting cities to add more sensors to a citywide network is a slow and deliberate process.

"Cities can't do everything at once. Cities will catch up, but it won't happen overnight."

Even Cisco's Trollope admitted that smart city returns are slow going. "Results won't come overnight, but change will happen faster than you might expect."

Smart partnerships for a smarter city

Cisco will not produce the sensors and is working with dozens of partners that make them. Cisco will certify the capabilities of various sensors and will help city officials pick the sensors they need, Khetrapal said. The company is also working with infrastructure and wireless network providers, including AT&T, Sprint, Deutsche Telekom and engineering, consulting and infrastructure company Black & Veatch.

Cisco will partner with IBM for its analytics software. "Cisco's uniqueness is the ability to connect and converge multiple [network and device] protocols," Khetrepal said.

The need to manage cities more efficiently is driving interest in innovative solutions and as technology hardware costs have dropped and connectivity has become more commonplace, opportunities to collect and analyse real-time data to manage cities better are being realised.[Smart energy for smart cities.] The opportunities are endless and this space is bound to witness even more innovation in the coming years as competitors create the ‘next best’ solution.


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