In depth: Big data, smart cities

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Embedded sensors, big data analytics make smart cities run

More and more cities across the world are implementing smart city projects in order to modernize the interaction between citizens, governments and the physical world. Some smart city projects are limited to a specific government sector while other projects include a wider number of sectors. Smart cities will certainly increase over the coming years and big data will play a key role in the development of smart city initiatives around the world.

A smart city uses information and communications technology (ICT) to improve the efficiency of urban services as well as improve the interactivity between citizens and local governments. Smart cities also are geared toward reducing costs and resource consumption through the implementation of advanced public services. Some of the sectors which have been developing smart city technology include government services, transport and traffic management, health care, energy, water and waste management.

ICT service providers have been developing smart city applications with the main aim of improving the management of urban flows and allowing government bodies and agencies to offer real-time solutions for current urban challenges such as traffic, waste management and public services, among others.  

Big data is a crucial part of smart cities projects as the huge amount of data generated by sensors and smart devices can be used by government agencies to improve public services. The use of big data can certainly help create cities where infrastructure and resources are used in a more efficient way.

Any smart city project willing to use big data will need to capture, store, process and analyse a large amount of data generated by a several sources to transform the data into useful knowledge that’s applicable to a decision-making process.

AT&T has begun its own investment into the field of smart cities technology. Mike Zeto, general manager of the AT&T Smart Cities Organization, gave an overview of the carrier’s ambitions

“It’s a real exciting time for AT&T. We’ve had a lot of success over the years in the Internet of Things area of our business. We are the leader in the U.S., and some would say globally, as the provider for Internet of Things solutions for telecommunications. The natural progression of that is to move into vertical areas that use underlying Internet of Things technologies and communication solution’s like smart cities.”

Zeto explained how AT&T has formed a dedicated organization under his direction within AT&T’s IoT business unit to develop smart city technologies. Zeto said the approach is to look for multi-faceted ways to develop smart infrastructure, “looking at ways we can drive smart city applications that can solve problems for the cities and the citizens.”

Technologies being explored include smart lighting, a system that uses an app to view and manage lights remotely. With smart parking, parking garages have lights that only turn on when a car approaches. Smart traffic signals organize traffic flow based on the number of vehicles and pedestrian.  Public safety sensors, such as gunfire detection technology, lets law enforcement know where a shooting occurred, rounds fired and number of people involved. Smart buildings, structures with motion sensor lights, can dim or shut off when a room is empty, while water meters can alert maintenance of leaking pipes and electric meters monitor energy use and alert when it reaches a specific threshold.

Zeto doesn’t foresee the move toward smart cities reversing: “Many cities both large and small, as well as research universities, have started to lead the way in looking at these solutions. It will take a while to roll out solutions in a building block approach and get them to scale. Were at the beginning of a journey and that’s something everybody needs to keep in mind.”

A clear example of how can big data contributes to the development of smart city projects can be found in the Republic of Korea. The project to create the smart city of Songdo started in 2000 and is expected to be fully completed by 2018, with an overall estimated cost of $35 billion. US networking company Cisco is one of main firms involved in this project.

The smart city project in Songdo stipulates that all city traffic will be measured and controlled through RFID tags, which will be installed on the cars. These RFID tags will send the location of the cars to a traffic monitoring unit. The data sent by the tags will allow authorities to clearly identify traffic congestion thereby enabling residents to avoid this congested areas. This system will also allow citizens to know the availability and current service conditions of public transports via smartphones and other mobile devices.

The garbage collection process, which is already operational, also generates data as residents need to use a chip card in the garbage containers. In Songdo, each house has a garbage disposal unit and all the city’s garbage is sucked into underground pipes which directly takes the garbage to the automated garbage collection plant. All apartment buildings and offices in the city are connected to the pipes system.

Also, this smart city project stipulates the use of smart energy grids. The grids can measure the presence of people in a particular area of the city and send data to a system which can adjust the use of traffic lights to save energy.

Another application, this one linking a smart city with a connected car, is being piloted in the United Kingdom by Jaguar Land Rover and city officials in Coventry.

With Jaguar Land Rover’s MagneRide platform, in-vehicle sensors will record the location and severity of a pothole or other road hazard – misaligned drain or manhole covers, for instance – and push that data into a cloud-based computing platform.

From there, the data is available in real time to other connected cars so drivers can avoid making the same mistake, as well as to local street repair authorities to help identify and prioritize maintenance.

Big data can also contribute to solve the problems citizens have to find available parking slots in large urban areas. Some smart city projects stipulate that cars should have a sensor attached, which will be able to guide the vehicle to the nearest available slot.

Also, big data can contribute in the city’s efforts to reduce pollution through the deployment of street sensors. These sensors can measure traffic flows at different times as well as total emissions. The government can implement actions to divert traffic to less congested areas in a move to reduce carbon emissions in a particular area.

About Author

Juan Pedro Tomás

Contributing Writer, EMEA & APAC
[email protected]
I have a degree in International Relations and a master in Journalim. I have worked seven years for Business News Americas, covering telecoms and IT news in Latin American markets. I have also worked for Telecompaper as regional editor for Latin America and Asia Pacific. I have also contributed with US-based magazine Latin Trade as the publication's correspondent in Argentina and with UK-based political risk consultancy firm Exclusive Analysis, writing reports and providing political and economic information from certain Latin American markets. I am married and I have two kids.