Smart technologies are helping cities, municipalities, and regions address community challenges, better allocate resources, and plan for the future – and it all starts with data.
To realize the Smart City vision, IoT has played an integral role. Different aspects of the life of a city can be captured in sensor data through IoT connectivity. However, that’s only one piece of the puzzle. It’s not the sensors that make the city Smart – it’s the ability to process this data and learn from all the data that empowers better decision making.
Today, we are seeing many cities put their data and digital technologies to work to improve parking, traffic congestion, water consumption, waste management, and public safety, to name a few, to effectively respond to the needs of their citizens.
According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, Smart City initiatives have significant potential to improve quality of life that has not yet been realized. The study found that cities with Smart technologies could:
How are leading cities implementing IoT and Smart technologies? Here are five popular use cases:
In 1997, Sweden launched Vision Zero, a program which aimed to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on its roads. Today, Vision Zero has attracted global attention by Sweden’s ability to cut traffic deaths in half in the span of two decades.
According to Vision Zero Canada, the essence of Vision Zero is “the action of continuously and preemptively removing the very possibility of violence [both serious injury and death] from our transportation systems”. When you look at countries with the lowest levels of traffic fatalities, each case is an evidenced-based approach that focuses on improving infrastructure and regulations of vehicles and appropriate speed limits.
Knowing where, when and why collisions, injuries and deaths are happening is crucial to successfully eliminate traffic fatalities. It also requires the ability to respond to recent incidents and occurring trends.
IoT-enabled programs can play a role in achieving a True Vision Zero system. By tracking and monitoring collision data using existing systems, policy decision-makers are able to turn data into action. Small steps can make significant progress towards eliminating traffic deaths and injuries.
For example, cities can understand traffic patterns, accident hot spots and volumes of cars, pedestrians and bicycles with Bluetooth-sensing technology and cameras. Using this data, real steps can be taken to eliminate traffic injury and death, such as adding barriers, changing the timing of lights, re-formulating traffic patterns, or adding signage or high visibility markings, to name a few.
In 2014, San Francisco signed a Vision Zero plan which sought to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024. By deploying Smart technologies, the city identified the 12% of streets where more than 70% of deaths/severe injuries to pedestrians, cyclists or drivers occur. Using years of data, the city is now able to identify where the most investment in engineering, education and enforcement should be focused to have the greatest impact on reducing traffic fatalities throughout the city.
In cities like Barcelona and San Francisco, IoT sensors are helping drivers locate empty parking spots in the city’s parking garages and streets by alerting users to open spaces, to help ease traffic congestion and the tireless circling of city streets.
Embedding sensors in the ground or cameras on light poles and building structures can determine whether a parking space is available or occupied. Data aggregated from these sensors can create a real-time parking map for drivers to use on their mobile devices.
Using sensors in traffic lights can help cities optimize route times and decrease congestion when needed. The data from traffic lights can be used for predictive analytics to understand traffic patterns, accident hot spots, and for monitoring green light timing to prevent congestion.
Here are how a few cities are using data from streets lights to optimize road conditions and better manage traffic flow:
Copenhagen uses sensors to monitor bike traffic in real time. The valuable information collected has led to improving bike routes in a city where 40% of residents commute by bike each day.
New York City wanted to learn where drivers made frequent hard brakes or sharp turns because of traffic, and so they launched a ‘connected car’ program in 2015 in order to collect this data, with the goal of reducing traffic congestion and improving road conditions.
In San Antonio, the city has the ability to turn lights up and down based on road conditions, such as rain, to improve visibility and help reduce accidents.
IoT data combined with AI can help to uncover patterns of how citizens use public transit. In London, England, the city combines data from ticket sales, movement sensors and platform cameras to predict how each car will load with passengers. This data is then used to maximize capacity use and avoid delays.
As another example, a major Canadian city is improving its citizens’ transit experience by letting transit riders confidently plan their commute with certainty. Using real-time data and a self-learning algorithm, the city’s solution accurately predicts transit departure times. As a result, transit riders can consume this information in real-time to plan their commute and management can use real-time operations dashboards to ensure services level are met.
In the long term, creating a better transit experience where riders are able to know with certainty when the next bus, train or ferry is actually going to depart results in an increase in ridership and a cleaner planet. For transit management, improving management of transportation assets and schedules allows the organization to drive operational efficiencies.
Speedy response and immediate action are critical for first responders. IoT and vehicle tracking for first responders doesn’t just improve efficiency, but also impact lives. Location data on first responders has provided the ability to streamline operations and make first responders more effective at their jobs. For example, vehicles are actively tracked, which allows dispatchers to send the closest responder to an emergency where seconds matter.
This need for first responder vehicle location data is also moving towards other transportation usage in cities. In Canada, we’re seeing this applied to winter road maintenance. The understanding of snow-clearing vehicles’ movements and usage, such as plow up/down and sanding/salting conditions, allows planners to ensure the safety of streets. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to share information about when citizens can expect snow to be cleared and when it was last cleared, for better transparency.
How should you approach your Smart City initiatives?
We believe the Smart City transformation journey is different for each city, municipality or region.
Smart cities should not be approached as an all-encompassing project, but rather a culture that seeks out improvements using data and AI in applications and infrastructure as soon as there is a problem or opportunity to address.
It’s important for cities to seek out public-private partnerships where there is an opportunity to knowledge share and jointly development. Many cities today are establishing innovative partnerships to accelerate their Smart City goals and overcome traditional challenges.
By taking this approach, cities can take advantage of the multiplier effect through data sharing. For example, Police Services capture accident data which can be shared with Transportation Services to understand ‘hot spots’ of accidents to reduce future accidents. This information, shared with Public Safety, can alert citizens to be more diligent in the ‘hot spot’ areas and to what is being done to improve the situation. When all of this is shared within a framework of Open Government, cities will be able to discover correlations between previously undiscovered data sets.
No matter the size of a city or how technologically advanced it is, there are always ways to use existing data and infrastructure and derive more value through small, incremental changes as part of a broader initiative or to address specific improvements for citizens.