Your Toaster Knows When You Get Out of Bed

The Internet of Things (IoT), defined by Forbes as simply the connecting of anything with an on/off switch to either the internet or to other machines, is becoming a part of everyday life. As homeowners, we are beginning to see the IoT through our smartphones controlling alarms, thermostats, door locks and even the toaster. This is all facilitated by smaller and cheaper microchips and sensors that allow for the collection and communication of data. Homeowners are not the only beneficiaries of these advancements, as governments across the globe are increasingly developing more technologically advanced cities. The evolution of “smart cities” is present with governments monitoring vehicle locations, road conditions, bridges, underground pipes, secure areas, dumpsters, pollution and so much more.

Transitioning to the “Smart City”

Through connectivity via inexpensive broadband networks, major urban areas are being transformed into automated “smart cities” able to manage problems related to increasing urban populations. Libelium, an international company focused on IoT, created a list of 50 sensor applications for a smarter world to show how an exemplary smart city could look. Below are a few of Libelium’s more interesting smart city applications highlighted with examples currently being implemented:

  • Smart Farms & Water Usage: Crops can be monitored via soil testing and trunk diameter, ensuring that individual plants are receiving the perfect amount of water and nutrients. As an example, Libelium says this technology is especially effective in enhancing wine quality. The growth and living conditions of livestock can be monitored and measured to produce the healthiest herds. Water usage on golf courses can be mitigated via sensors that monitor dry and wet zones. The irrigation system can then automatically adjust sprinkler schedules based on current weather conditions.
  • Smart Roads, Bridges, and Parking Lots: Safety, traffic, andUrbiotica Smart Parking accidents are daily issues in crowded urban areas. In a “smart city,” the IoT sensors monitor and communicate traffic congestion to divert travel paths quickly and notify customers of open parking spaces as they enter parking lots.  City officials can monitor the structural health of roads, tunnels, and bridges to identify problem areas before they deteriorate. For years, Singapore has applied a congestion tax via electronic road pricing sensors. Using real-time data to tax drivers during the heaviest traffic periods, Singapore significantly decreases congestion, collisions, and pollution while simultaneously increasing usage of public transportation.
  • Waste Management & Pollution Control: Using the IoT, city waste management services can monitor waste levels to optimize pick-up routes. Urbiotica has already created a system to sense waste levels via a sensor placed in the lid of a dumpster. These sensors notify trucks when pick-up is required, eliminating the expense of unnecessary trips. Sensors will also aid in closely monitoring factory air pollution, nuclear power plant radiation levels, and water potability.
  • Crime Detection: ShotSpotter is a technology that helps policeShotSpotter Diagram accurately identify the location of gunfire, facilitating a much quicker arrival for first responders. It provides audio of the gunshots and actionable intelligence detailing how many shots were fired and how many shooters were involved. Another example comes from Knightscope, a robotics company that is creating crime-fighting robots that can scan and guard an area and alert authorities to unauthorized personnel. The robots can put a distressed person in contact with police within seconds and can also monitor license plates. The company intends for the robots to eventually predict and prevent crime.

The United Nations forecasts that the world’s population will rise to 9.7 billion by 2050. In that same time frame, the UN expects that the proportion of people living in urban areas will rise to 66% globally. The hope is technological advancements, in conjunction with the Internet of Things, will assist governments to support these densely populated urban centers. The transition to “Smart Cities” has already begun.