Driving Along in Your Automobile
Do you find the commute to work or to the shops a drag? Research shows that you are not alone – the average US commuter wastes an incredible 42 hours in traffic congestion every year[i] and spends an additional 17 hours just looking for parking?[ii] Apart from fuel emissions and the sheer waste of time and energy, just think of the collective frustration and raised blood pressure levels! We have all been there, stuck in a jam or circling around looking for that elusive space.
On a different note, maybe you have heard people complain about local amenities – perhaps that newly opened park is not big enough for all the kids who play in it, a road was not made wide enough or there is a shortage of pedestrian crossings or street bins in the right locations.
Wind of Change
Moving to the weather, we seem to be experiencing an increase in major storms of late with hurricane force winds and flooding. Who can forget Storms Irma, Harvey, Ophelia, and Brian to name but a few? We are still in mop-up mode in Ireland and the UK, never mind the far more serious consequences, suffered by communities as far afield as Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and Cuba.
Technology and the Power of Partnership
I know that these are all very different issues but all have the capacity to affect our lives to a greater or lesser degree as well as wasting time, energy, resources and money. Can technology and the Internet of Things help? Can industry, academia and local Government work for mutual benefit and help improve the local community for citizens?
For me, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. Real-time data with an instant feedback loop allows us to keep our finger on the pulse. I believe that IoT technology can help make our lives easier, allow planners design better services, save money, reduce risks and protect the environment.
Optimizing Traffic Flow
Here’s how. For example, one of the best ways to reduce traffic jams is to collect, store and analyse data in real time from road sensors, traffic lights, GPS on vehicles, Wi-Fi networks and CCTV to better understand traffic flows. By combining this data with road closures and maintenance schedules, the local authorities can design traffic models and get real-time insights about traffic performance, conditions and incidents to help optimize traffic flow.
Did you know that around 30 percent of the cars circling a city at any given time are drivers looking for parking?[iii] If we could reduce the time it takes people to find a parking space by even a fraction, the reduction in emissions and the difference in our carbon footprint – never mind, our frustration levels– would be significant. The solution is simple – an IoT-enabled smart parking application. So how would this work? Picture parking occupancy sensors communicating with a gateway, where data would be analysed in real time and then sent via an app on your sat nav or smart phone, indicating the number of available spaces and the best route to get there.
Reducing the Danger of Flooding
Meanwhile, experts say that flood risk could be significantly reduced by integrating real-time, wireless sensors with models of the flood plain or drainage area. Real-time measurements could then be used to allow real-time adjustments to be made to water networks to reduce the danger of flooding as well as sending early alerts to citizens and communities, who might be impacted by rising water levels.
Smart Use of Limited Resources
We all know that the civic authorities have limited resources and budgets. To avoid needless work, could we perhaps send waste management crews out on a just-in-time basis to empty street bins just before they reached full capacity instead of doing it on a routine basis when bins may be either empty or over flowing? What about saving energy through lighting, which automatically dims and brightens, depending on the presence of pedestrians? Could CCTV technology automatically alert the emergency services to accidents?
Research Delivered Through Partnership
All these questions deserve answers. This explains why we have recently teamed up with Lero, the Irish Software Research Center, to jointly sponsor a two-year post-doctoral research study into the Internet of Things in Connected Cities. Based at our IoT Lab at Limerick, the researcher will explore how sensors and IoT technology can best be deployed in areas such as pedestrian footfall, efficient traffic management, smart parking, smart lighting, waste management, safety, security, flood detection, plus improved soil and water quality.
Improving Planning and the Citizen Experience
Led by Professor Brian Donnellan, Chairperson of the All Ireland Smart Cities Forum, Professor of Information Systems Innovation at the School of Business, Maynooth University and Academic Director of the Innovation Value Institute, the research will also examine how Limerick gathers, analyses and uses data, how the civic authorities engage both citizens and commercial entities, and how insights generated from the data can be used to design better services, improve planning and the overall citizen experience. Limerick City and County Council is fully supportive and believes that the research will foster IoT use cases that can be piloted in the local community.
Outcomes Will Help Urban Centers Around the World
While the initial study will concentrate on Limerick, Ireland’s third largest city, we believe that the outcomes of this research can be applied to other urban centers in Ireland and indeed around the world. For example, we will be sharing data with the All Ireland Smart Cities Forum, a cross border initiative, made up of local government officials, representing Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Belfast and Derry, which explores common challenges related to implementing connected city policies and projects.
I am excited about the potential for this project. Community benefits aside, this research is likely to influence the content of university courses while insights gained will undoubtedly shape the design of future products and services.
Do you think technology and IoT can deliver benefit to society? What’s your take on Connected Cities? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.