Build: Technology is advancing the ways we create, and experience, our spaces

Building Smart Cities

Can IoT transform urban environments into efficient, interactive smart cities? Yes—as long as governments put the right infrastructure in place.

With populations growing faster than their public infrastructure can handle, many cities are getting smart about how they support their citizens. They’re using the Internet of Things (IoT) to transform public sector operations at municipal, regional, and even national levels.

The Boston Consulting Group expects spending on IoT by governments to increase from $5 billion in 2015 to $12 billion in 2020. These governments are building smart cities, which use data collected from IoT devices to create efficiencies for service providers and to improve services for citizens. IoT leverages the power of connected devices to meet the needs of a burgeoning population that increasingly relies on digital services and interactivity.

The applications are almost limitless: Street lights that respond to pedestrian traffic. Smart garbage cans that prompt rubbish collection when needed. Apps that alert drivers of open parking spaces. But for the magic to happen, cities must ensure that they have the right infrastructure in place.

Exploring what happens when possibility becomes reality.

Realizing Responsive Buildings

In the U.S., buildings account for about 40 percent of total energy consumption; in large urban centers, that number can exceed 70 percent.

By incorporating IoT-enabled devices and systems in buildings, cities can promote sustainable operations and manage resource use more efficiently. This is particularly relevant in a strict regulatory environment that aims to improve environmental performance and reduce operational costs of public facilities.

For example, the European Commission requires public buildings in the EU to reduce energy use by 25 percent by 2020. IoT can significantly contribute toward achieving this objective: Heating systems can be connected to weather forecast data and programmed to automatically anticipate climate changes. And sensors in bathrooms and kitchens can precisely measure energy and water usage to identify opportunities for waste reduction.

Other exciting possibilities for managing building environments in real time include remotely managed security systems; interactive systems that allow occupants to tailor lighting to their needs; and location-based services that provide interactive in-building directions for visitors. However, realizing these benefits is difficult when public buildings operate through multiple siloed systems. The right infrastructure provides a way of joining the management of these systems and constituent devices, enabling them to be administered transparently through a single console.

Proactively Managing Public Transport

The city of London uses IoT to great effect in its public transportation system. Tranport for London (TfL), which oversees public transportation in the U.K. capital, collects data about all the journeys taken across the city’s transit network. By acting on this data, TfL has enabled the system to better cope with millions of additional passengers and major disruptions such as bridge and station closures.

Unfortunately, traditional public transportation has a ways to go before it reaches “smart″ status. It consists of discrete systems that don’t actually connect very well with one another. That makes it difficult for one system, such as a bus network, to compensate for a breakdown in a related system, such as a train line. The result: people get stuck and miss connections, which leads to economic and environmental costs, stress, and dissatisfaction for everyone involved.

IoT can enhance the interconnections in several ways. A network of sensors installed on tracks and in vehicles would allow problems to be identified in real time and remedied rapidly. This information could be linked to a service that provides passengers with real-time transportation options near their location, such as bus lines or car-sharing services. Finally, using sensor networks to enable predictive maintenance—identifying and fixing potential mechanical problems before they occur—would help further reduce delays for passengers.

These applications depend on having an integrated management system that monitors the operation of all sensors and connected devices—enabling a reliable, interconnected public transport infrastructure.

Accelerating Emergency Response

Accidents and emergencies are costly—to property and to life. For instance, in 2016 25 fires in the U.S. resulted in a total of $1.4 billion in direct property losses. These fires accounted for 14 civilian deaths, 183 civilian injuries, and eight firefighter injuries.

These types of incidents are intrinsically unpredictable, making response management particularly difficult and effort-intensive. They also require the fastest response to minimize damage to life and property. IoT can dramatically improve response time and effectiveness through real-time collection and analysis of data from connected devices.

For example, without real-time IoT, emergency incident analysis is slow because much of the relevant data, such as video footage recorded by wearable cameras, must be physically downloaded onto a computer and then uploaded to central servers at the end of every day. The ability to live-stream incident information to a central management environment can increase the ability of emergency services to accurately determine the relevant facts about an incident, capture perpetrators, and minimize any impacts such as traffic congestion and the risk of further injury or damage.

Other related applications include the live-streaming of patient data from an ambulance to a hospital. As a result, medical advice can be given en route and accurate preparations can be made for rapid treatment upon arrival at the hospital.

To enable rapid emergency service response, the IoT infrastructure should ideally support the secure, integrated management of fixed or vehicle-based data gateways to capture, distribute, and analyze data from a single console.

Meeting the Needs of Citizens

With a range of possible applications this diverse, it’s essential for cities to have a cohesive IoT infrastructure that includes integrated management and robust security, such as VMware Pulse IoT Center. With the ability to centrally manage end-to-end IoT solutions, municipal authorities can deliver truly connected public services—securely, at scale, with the quality needed to meet the diverse and constantly evolving expectations of their citizens.

The Possibility Report is an ongoing series about how technology is changing our understanding of the world around us. This article is part of BUILD, our discussion on how emerging technologies promise to change the way we design, create, and experience the places we live and work, from city centers to the remote villages of tomorrow.