For a city municipal corporation, the safety, comfort, and well being of its citizens is the priority.

It is only when the basic needs of the residents are met, are they able to concentrate on other activities that contribute to the growth of the city in terms of GDP, creation of employment, and attracting more investors. With the growing population in cities, it becomes rather difficult for the city administration to keep a manual tab on all the aspects of city development and maintenance. Technology comes to the rescue here, in the form of the Internet of things(IoT) and manifests as a smart city to help the administration ensure smooth traffic management, timely garbage collection, efficient operation of streetlights, and many more interesting operations that shall be dealt with in detail in further paragraphs.

By definition, the Internet of things is a system where a set of objects(sensors and actuators) connected to the internet, communicate with each other (send and receive data) without human intervention. 

Possible areas where IoT can be adapted to make cities smart

Road traffic control

Anyone who has driven in the rush hour city traffic would know what a bane it is to wait endlessly in signal lights. Good news is that this situation can be eased a lot with smart solutions that include IoT

How does it work? 

Instead of switching the traffic lights in a predetermined fashion, smart cities use GPS sensor data from the smartphones of drivers to know the approximate number of vehicles and their average speed in a particular location. Knowing the vehicle density, the switching on and off of the traffic lights can be centrally controlled, to let more vehicles clear from a congested area, thus aiding smoother traffic flow.

If all traffic lights are connected to the network, it is possible to make frequent adjustments to their timings thereby making them work in tandem to collectively facilitate smoother and safer movement of vehicles.

Smart parking

Efficient management of parking spaces also accounts to a lot of savings in fuel, time and productivity of the city residents. Smart parking systems is the solution for most parking woes of the cities

How does it work?

The first step is to map all the parking spaces available in the city and install sensors(either cameras or road surface sensors that sense whether the parking lot is occupied)  in each parking space. A real-time parking map is made available to the public with the occupancy data, as received from the installed sensors.

Drivers receive notifications about available parking spots in the areas of their choice thus preventing them from driving around in search of empty parking spots

Street lighting

Switching schedules for street lights decides the expenditure of electricity and influences the running costs of a city. Adapting IoT solution for it by connecting the network of street lights to the internet can alleviate the power wastage

How does it work?

Luminescence sensors are attached to the street lights to gauge daylight availability. Individual streetlights can be programmed to switch on when the intensity of daylight falls below a certain level and to switch off when it exceeds another calibrated level.

To make it even more efficient, pedestrian movement can also be sensed at the ends of the street. When no pedestrian movement is detected only a few streetlights can remain on. Upon detection of movements, all of the streetlights can be switched on for better illumination in the dark.

Other environment data can also be integrated in this algorithm. Bus schedule for example can be used to control the brightness of streetlights. In sparsely populated areas, the streetlights can remain dimly lit. But when the city bus arrives, the brightness can be increased so as to provide better visibility to alighting passengers.

Environment factors

Quality of air and water decides the average state of health and longevity of the residents. It is therefore important to monitor the air for pollutants, particulate matter and water for contaminants and dissolved oxygen levels. IoT can provide an efficient solution here

How does it work?

Sensors are deployed across the potable water reservoir. These sensors can measure pH level, percentage of dissolved oxygen and ions in water. Whenever the composition of water falls below configured threshold for these parameters, the central control system(to which all the sensors are connected) can alert the taskforce to attend to the issues in water reservoir

Similarly, air quality is also measured with the help of sensors that measure the composition of harmful gases like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and also particulate matter. Whenever the composition of these gases breaches the safe threshold, citizens are notified on their phones and the municipality can immediately take emergency measures to control the situation

Basic infrastructure needed for transitioning a city into a smart city

If a city has to freshly transition into a smart city, the following stepwise architecture can be adopted to build a scalable smart ecosystem. Depending on the use case, consultancies like Pace Wisdom can give you a custom made plan.

Step 1: Build basic infrastructure for the smart city

Foundation of a smart city is its hardware components. Basic hardware prerequisites are

  1. A network of sensors and actuators - Sensors and actuators are the basic units of a smart city. Depending on the use cases, relevant sensors and actuators are to be installed. For example, if the city wants to implement smart solutions in areas of traffic management and air quality control, it can install remotely controlled digital switches at the traffic lights (actuators) and air quality sensors at different areas of the city (sensors)
  2. Gateways and data lakes - Data from sensor nodes have to flow through a channel called field gateways to the cloud. Field gateways gather data, compress, and pre-process it before pushing it on the cloud. Data lakes store the raw data.
  3. Data warehouse - Data warehouse is the storage for structured data. It contains additional information about sensors like the date of installation, command sequence for actuators, etc.

Step 2: Monitoring

Once the sensors are in place, thresholds have to be set for the entities measured by the sensors. For example, for an air quality sensor network, rules can be set as to what composition of particulate matter in the air should raise an alarm. Such rules are programmed in the controller where all the sensors are connected to.

Step 3: Deep analytics and smart control

For more automation, cities can deploy ML algorithms to avoid manual interference for controlling certain actuators. For example, road traffic data over a period can be collected and analyzed and traffic lights can ‘learn’ when to switch to green or red depending on factors such as the density of vehicles in each direction of the intersection, presence of congestion further down the road, the day of the week and time of the day.

Step 4: User applications and notifications to citizens

To integrate the citizens as contributors in the smooth functioning of the city, an app where they can share their inputs or report problems would be ideal. This will also cut off the bureaucracy and facilitate quicker solutions. 

City management can also alert the users about traffic congestions, interruptions in supply of water and electricity and other important announcements.

Integration of smart solutions 

Transitioning into a smart city is a gradual process that happens over an extended period. Proper planning is crucial for a successful implementation and working. It is always a good idea to start implementing smart solutions for a single function(like air quality monitoring or smart parking) and then slowly expand it to related areas. For example, if you began with air quality monitoring it is easier to expand to water quality monitoring and control.If you began with smart parking, it is easier to extend to smart traffic control. This kind of iterative strategy is beneficial also from a financial point of view.