By Dai Howells
The ‘connected city’ has now made the leap from being an idea -- a notion spoken of only in future tense -- to something real, tangible and firmly on the horizon.
Even just a few months ago, the idea of a city in which real objects could communicate and send messages seemed like something out of a film, not quite for this world, yet. However, as is customary in the tech world, a few months is a lifetime. And now we’re not only seeing a greater understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT), but companies and official bodies are also actively looking at how they can harness its potential.
In fact, Arqiva has teamed up with SigFox to provide connectivity across more than 10 U.K. cities, to supplement the work being done with Bristol is Open, Digital Greenwich and the smart city initiative in Milton Keynes. This presents proof, were it needed, that we’ve bridged the gap between theory and reality.
So, if this is happening at the rate it appears to be, and expert opinion suggests that the IoT could have an even more disruptive impact than the Internet itself, what can we expect it to bring to our cities in terms of efficiency and sustainability?
Think about all the ways a city is currently inefficient. Refuse collectors, for example, schlep halfway across town – through dense traffic – to empty high street bins that are only a third full. An alert system that more reliably informed these collectors when to empty the bins would make their lives demonstrably more efficient.
Traffic – as touched on earlier – is another. What about using the IoT to reduce congestion? This falls under both categories: efficiency and sustainability. Through more accurate (not to mention real-time) reporting of congested areas, the powers that be could introduce measures to reduce build ups. The result would not only be quicker journeys for all road users, but also fewer emissions as cars sit idling – and that’s not even mentioning the stress saved from being one of the many sat in traffic.
The same is true of parking. How many hours are wasted in our cities every day as drivers circle time and time again looking for spaces that seemingly never turn up? Again, better monitoring and reporting could almost eliminate this tortuous process overnight. Drivers would be better directed to spaces as and when they become available, meaning the emissions and time savings noted above are increased further still. There’s also a financial impact, as cars that find their way to empty spaces quicker will mean council-run car parks turn over a greater profit. If, for example, there’s an empty space in a side street down which few drivers are turning, it’s sat empty without any money being taken. Divert traffic to it and profits increase. Another tick in the box for both efficiency and sustainability.
It’s a similar story for council buildings or any other under public control, thanks to the wealth of new data that the IoT will make available. For example, clear figures in black and white will illustrate which buildings are most energy efficient and, conversely, which need to be improved. Figures could also be tied in with data from elsewhere. So, the time an office’s air conditioning units first come on can be cross-referenced with the time its first employees arrive. Compare this once again with the time it takes the air conditioning to reach an optimum temperature and you could end up leaving it half an hour later every morning before it needs to be automatically switched on. In one small office this would be a marginal gain, but factor it out to the countless others up and down the country, and it provides immeasurable efficiency and cost improvements.
In being an emerging technology, the IoT still has aspects that are unknown. Some people, as the trend line of hyped products or services will attest, will grossly overestimate its capacities. Others won’t be expecting quite how revolutionary it will be – and are in for a surprise. Either way, the above examples are just some of the things we could see being achieved very shortly down the line. What it actually goes on to manage could be so much bigger.
Image credit: Flickr/Neil Kremer
Dai Howells is a journalist and technology expert working on behalf of Arqiva. Arqiva is a communications infrastructure and media services company which broadcasts through satellite and mobile technologies.