IoT 2016: The Smart City

#IoT for Good, Guest Contributor, Rundown, Thought Leaders

Two things are not going away in the foreseeable future: people and technology. By 2050 nearly 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, making smart city planning a primary concern. Incorporating technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine to Machine (M2M) into the daily functions of city life creates a metropolis that runs more smoothly and sustainably. From sending a notification of when the milk is about to expire to remotely changing the temperature in a subway station based on the number of people, a smart city improves the quality of life for its people and reduces energy waste.

In this article I’m going to talk about all the four major aspects of a smart city: Smart Energy and the Grid,  Smart Home, Smart Transportation, and Smart Waste Management. I’ll end with discussing the overall Impact of Smart Cities. Having just one component, such as a smart grid, can significantly reduce energy costs for citizens. However, when all four aspects of a smart city are interconnected with each other, the positive effects grow exponentially both for the individual and city. Smart cities are more than just cool, it’s the next chapter of modern civilization.


Smart Grid and Smart Energy

The electricity grid is the nervous system of the city. The original electric grid started covering the landscape in the late 1800s with a fairly simple setup. Power plants would send electricity to buildings, and homes and businesses would pay a monthly electricity bill. If there was a problem, a maintenance worker would have to come to the site in order to solve the problem. Implementing new technologies allow the electric grid automate some of the processes and collect more information for future use.

A good example of implementing new technology to create a Smart Grid is the transition from Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) to Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI). AMR is a one-way communication reader, where a meter on a home would share its energy use to the utility company, and often times a maintenance worker would have to come and read the numbers off the meter. With AMI, meters can share more detailed information. AMI can share energy use by the hour, and even in real-time. This information is shared to both to the utility company and the consumer. With this information utility companies can implement more effective energy reduction programs, and consumers can find ways to reduce their energy usage within their homes.

WindmillHaving cities think about Smart energy means more than reducing energy use. Smart Energy also means implementing renewable energy into the electricity grid. Incorporating renewable energy such as wind power and solar power reduces the use of coal power plants. In addition to implementing renewable energy into the grid, engineers are finding better ways to store energy used by solar panels and wind power so electricity can be used any time of day regardless of weather. With smart energy, cities provide quality electricity for homes and businesses while also reducing carbon emissions.

An example of incorporating renewable energy into the electricity grid is Denmark’s successful onshore wind turbines. On July 12, 2015 after a large storm, Denmark’s windmills produced 140% of its national electricity needs in one night. With interconnectors the extra energy was not wasted and the country was able to sell 80% of its power surplus to the neighboring countries Germany, Norway, and Sweden. Denmark expects to have 50% of its energy come from wind power by 2020, making the country a pioneer in implementing renewable energy.

Smart Home

Theoretically, everything in a smart home can be an internet of thing, making every device and task in the house controlled by a smart phone. While it sounds frivolous to open the front door with your smartphone rather than answering the door yourself, the smart home is accountable for 21% of IoT products, from smart light bulbs to smart security systems.

While at work, a homeowner can change the temperature of the house, start some coffee, check if the children are watching TV or doing homework. When at home, there’s no need to unlock a smart home and press buttons when there’s a smart hub like Amazon’s hub Echo you can talk to instead. After hearing voice commands, smart hubs like Echo can turn on music, open the door, or remember to wake you up in the morning. With the more data provided, smart home appliances can adjust to match the individual’s lifestyle. They can remind you when you are running low on coffee or wake you up at a time that matches your sleep cycle.

maxresdefaultBeyond smart appliances creating more efficient lives for individuals, smart technologies also allow consumers to be more energy efficient.  Smart fridges  remind you of expiration dates or suggest recipes with the food you already have. Smart bins identify what can be recycled or composted, and post your sustainability ratings on social media. There are devices that know when you leave and enter a room, and therefore will turn off the light in one room and turn up the heat in another. The data that these devices collect allow the consumer and the company to learn how to be more energy efficient.

Installing smart home infrastructure can be complicated, especially as more and more IoT devices exist in the home. Before wireless, products connected devices over existing electrical wires. For example, in order for a remote control to send a signal to turn on a light in another room, the number identification of the lamp would be transmitted through an electrical wire. Today, devices in the home are now wireless and are connected through radio waves, which is how BlueTooth, Wifi, and cell phone signals work. As so many devices are connected through radio waves, there are different ways to connect IoT devices. Mesh networks allows more than one way for messages from device to device reach other. For example Z Wave uses Source Routing Algorithm which creates of hierarchy of the best route for a message. Another organization called ZigBee has a different mesh networking system that finds the fastest route that represents more of a bee-line and zigzag approach. All these different methods on mesh networking minimizes traffic along radio waves so multiple devices can function simultaneously.

Realizing the huge market of homeowners purchasing smart home devices, from smart ice cubes to smart central heating system, both startups and large companies are investing millions into this smart home industry. While many people initially see smart homes as futuristic and too controlling, the growing presences of smart thermostats and smart lighting inside the home proves there is an increasing demand. A smart home benefits consumers by making their life more efficient. They can easily track the use of certain devices and also control them remotely with their smartphone or with voice command. Smart homes are also more sustainable because devices can use data to identify how much waste has been consumed and also display graphics so both the consumers and companies can improve from these marks. If every home in a city becomes a smart home, a significant reduction in energy will occur, and the data from smart home devices allows improvement in energy efficiency at a city scale.

Smart Transportation

As more people move to live in the cities, urban planners focus on designing walkable, bikeable, and more livable cities. Decreasing the use of cars not only lowers carbon emissions, but also eliminates urban sprawl and allows more room for green spaces rather than pavement within a city. With smart transportation car commuting can be more efficient, and alternative modes of transportation such as biking or using public transit can be more appealing. Incorporating IoT devices allows cities to reduce and regulate traffic which minimizes accidents and commuting anxiety.

ULTra_001As bike commuting become a more viable mode of transportation, internet of things increases the convenience of cycling. One strong example of prioritizing cyclists in a city is London’s use of sensors at traffic light intersections. These sensors can count the number  of cyclists that have stopped at an intersection, and can change traffic light patterns in accordance to the number of cyclists waiting. The sensors collect data on the number of cyclists at an intersection, which allows planners to expand bike lanes at the intersections with more cycling commuters.


On an individual level, cyclists can purchase a variety of IoT devices for their bike. To name a few, one is a google glass helmet that notifies traffic in real time and reroutes the commute. Another is a keyless bike lock that automatically unlocks when it senses your smart phone nearby your bike. Smart locks allow a person to share the bike with family and friends,  and the lock can track bike activity to find stolen bikes as well. Smart handlebars allow cyclists to use bluetooth to make calls, or  the handlebars will vibrate when too close to traffic. The “internet of bikes” has resulted in startups creating a variety of products for more convenient cycling.

For the fair weather cyclist, public transportation has become more accessible thanks to internet of things. To compete with crowd sharing car services, many city planners have produced smartphone apps for citizens to plan their public transit route and see the arrival times of buses and  subways in real time. At transportation hubs, such as subway stations, sensors can count the number of people in the stations and manage air conditioning or PA loudspeakers accordingly. “On board” sensors help count the number of people in the vehicle to help planners increase or decrease the number of buses or subways needed for certain commute hours.

bikesIn addition to cycling and public transportation, cars are becoming a more sustainable and safe mode of transportation thanks to IoT. Thirty percent of traffic is caused by cars looking for parking. New smartphone apps guide cars into finding available parking spaces. This reduces traffic, driver anxiety, and gas emissions. In addition to smart parking, cars are beginning to “talk” to each other. Cars can connect to each other via wifi, and keep distance to avoid crashes. Sensing how close other cars are around them, cars can then reroute to avoid traffic. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication plays an important role when more self-driving cars are on the road.

Hidden from the commuter are the benefits of internet of things for fleet management. Fleet management are the vehicles (trucks, trains, boats, etc.) that transport cargo to and from locations. Thanks to IoT, the cargo themselves can have trackers in order to see their location in real time. Internet of things also helps the vehicle for vehicle maintenance, traffic routing, and tracking.  The ability to track and automate tasks of fleet management allow cities to regulate what time large cargo trucks enter the city, and can also find ways to reduce carbon emissions.

Scania Fleet Management services pioneers installing IoT to help reduce fuel economy. All Scania vehicles have Fleet management services hardware installed. The hardware collects fleet data and categorizes it into useful information from weekly fuel consumption to speeding. Vehicles can be mapped in real time and updated into a company’s existing data system. With smarter technology improving fleet management, Scania claims that improved driver performance can save 10% in fuel economy.

Smart Waste Management

Waste is expected to increase by 50% globally within the next decade. Increased garbage waste is an aesthetic, environmental, and public health issue. A smart waste management system implements technology to identify locations with high amounts of waste, and also use technology to find solutions in reducing waste.

One important way of implementing smart management is to optimize the process of collecting garbage within the city. Smart devices such as Enevo install IoT devices within garbage bins and report how full the garbage bin is in real time. Once a garbage bin is deemed full, the device alerts the nearest garbage truck to pick up the waste. This streamlines a garbage truck’s pickup route and avoids wasting time going to bins that are mostly empty.  In addition to real time information, smart bins such as BigBelly have solar powered lids, and use the solar energy to compact the garbage. This allows the bin to collect five times more garbage than the average bin.

Waste ManagementOne of the leading sources of waste is food waste. In countries such as America and India, more than 30% of food is wasted before a consumer even purchases food. Businesses can use more machine to machine devices in order to track the transportation of food and/or track the freshness of products before they become spoiled. With more collected information about a food’s journey from farm to table, the businesses can find solutions to optimize their delivery to reduce waste and save money. From a consumer perspective, households can own smart refrigerators that allow them to track what food they have and which ones are quickly going to expire. Smart garbage bins for households can also remind people what waste can be composted and recycled. Food waste is a global issue, and technology can aid in being more conscious of what we are throwing away.

Understanding the negative impacts of waste, many cities strive to be cradle to cradle cities. The concept of cradle to cradle (C2C) is that everything that is produced should also be reused or recycled, and essentially produce zero waste. One example of a C2C is Liuzhou China, where materials to build homes are locally sourced, renewable energy such as solar panels are implemented, and animal and human waste are used to heat buildings. Another example is Almere, Netherlands, the third largest solar powered field in the world that will heat 10% of the city’s hot water. With these two cities as examples, urban areas around the world can follow suit to create more sustainable cities.

The Impact of Smart Cities

Will IoT solely create a perfect zero waste city? Most likely not. Many IoT devices focus on information and automation. The implementation of IoT allows cities to identify where energy is being used and how we can optimize the process to reduce energy waste. What will really allow cities to have zero carbon footprint is to focus on the idea of cradle to cradle and find new solutions to implement renewable energy sources. The use of IoT can track a city’s progress in reducing waste until it successfully reaches a cradle to cradle system.

With the factors of growing urban population and growing climate change concerns, city planners have a moral obligation to create sustainable and livable cities. The focus of using IoT not only shows that a city is tech savvy, but shows that this city is willing to progress. A city that leads in creating smart cities attract smart people. These smart people create a tech industry that find solutions for their fellow residents save on their electricity bill, to have a faster commute to work, or to have more food on the table rather than in the garbage. The tech industry a smart city creates is one that gives back to the city. A city that has it’s people creating sustainable and livable solutions for one another is a smart one indeed.