Connectivity in the Smart City
Reimagining how we connect
Over the past 100 years, advancements in the wireless control and monitoring of utility systems and public services have transformed how cities perform. Today, we have reached a crucial turning point in reimagining our concept of the city.
AUTHORS: Bruce Bishop, Fellow, Antennas, Data and Devices
Nicholas Langston, Senior Manager, Business Development, Communications Solutions
The idea of the smart city is inspiring many new ideas for integrating the services people rely upon every day. Today, there are solutions delivering – with every iteration – convenience, safety, and efficiency that only a few years ago was unimaginable. This unprecedented connectivity is enabled by – among other things – wireless communication and a vast array of sensors. This connectivity can improve urban lighting, infrastructure performance, and energy consumption.
In the smart city, street lighting is only activated when the street is in use.
Today, many municipalities are replacing standard street lights with LED luminaire lighting fixtures that are equipped with advanced sensors and connected to integrated networks. The result is a light system locally or remotely activated so that it responds only when the street is in use such as when a pedestrian is walking at night. This type of system enables cities to replace street lighting fixtures, which can help them reduce power demand in the short term and realize cost savings over time.
Pedestrians walking in a subway station.
In the smart city, people would enjoy advanced connectivity that offers new conveniences, including opportunties to integrate the many services they rely on each day, from parking to navigating the city.
If we first target large parking venues such as airports, shopping centers and malls by adding video capabilities, each lighting fixture can be locally or remotely activated only when there is activity. This can save energy and enhance security. All of the data and control could be accomplished through the current 4G wireless networks or 5G networks of the future. Since we will have this high speed connection to the internet and cloud, we could use WiFi access to provide information about parking availability and special offers at the stores and restaurants in the area. Advertising revenue can be used to offset the cost of rolling this technology out in places that want to place themselves at the leading edge of the technology adoption curve.
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Another aspect of the smart city that offers immediate gratification is the ability to manage traffic and parking in metropolitan areas. Imagine the pleasure of entering a major city and being presented with all of the available parking options within the vicinity of your destination. With the advent of smart and autonomous vehicles, city services such as parking information, directions and billing can all be accomplished automatically. Real-time traffic information will be universally available allowing transportation officials to re-route traffic and change traffic light patterns to optimise the flow of traffic. This has tremendous value in areas that host sporting events or major attractions. Environmental information such as weather, pollution, and noise could be monitored at each location. However, integration of all of this functionality in a compact package can be a daunting task. Just the number of sensors and radio functions which must co-exist is a challenge. Issues such as power and thermal management and antenna design are critical to a successful integration.
Just as the streetlights of the smart city will activate only when someone comes within range, so too can all utilities and appliances optimise their performance. The environmental impact of only being ‘on’ when necessary can be significant. Imagine for a moment a city full of smart refrigerators and air conditioners. These two appliances alone represent a significant piece of an individual dwelling’s energy usage. If we could enable these appliances to communicate with the electrical grid, these could determine the best time to run to maintain their target temperatures. Perhaps the refrigerator can achieve slightly colder temperatures prior to the peak demand for the air conditioner, resulting in a stable, manageable load for the utility provider. Imagine a municipal sprinkler system that takes into consideration current water availability, soil conditions and the weather forecast to make sure every drop of water used to maintain parks and fields is completely utilized.
The Path Forward
As populations in the developing countries of the world continue to grow and demand access to the same conveniences the developed countries already enjoy, existing infrastructures will be stretched to the limit. The solutions enabled by the smart city offer a clear path to provide access to these conveniences in a responsible, equitable way.
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I appreciate this articles approach to the discussion of Smart Cities and the opportunity to aid more efficient operational management. The thrust of the article to direct attention towards the social demand for better infrastructure maintenance, operation and repair is of course dependent upon city and civic authorities participation; it also requires both industry and consumer to engage. Efforts in selected projects, especially those funded via the European Commission, and supported by city consortia have already demonstrated how effective such cooperation can be (see for example Copenhagen and Bristol). What is key however is to balance these technical developments, and ensure that energy efficiency and system-wide energy consumption is actually reduced. There is a real challenge in calculating the carbon cost or pure energy costs when looking at such large, wide-scale, and complex systems (such as an extended urban arena). In particular the drive to connect everything seems to be one such wherein the transaction cost of each communication is ignored. Wireless is not energy efficient if it is broadcast and ubiquitous. It could well be that closed circuit systems would be very much more effective and efficient. In most cases the control-surface of any feed-back system is prone to issues when distributed widely (a complete system model often being impractical or even implausible)... thus event driven communication between well adjusted nodes is preferable... if required. Even in such cases wired communication would be more efficient.