The data generators of a city

Smart projects that are de­signed to make cities more sustainable and liveable rely on armies of sensors to work successfully. Today, smart cities are even equipped with special sensor platforms that are able to measure a whole host of different values and communicate at the same time.

Chicago is the first of the USA’s major cities to develop a permanent infrastructure for collecting big data. It incorporates hundreds of environmental sensors, capturing information on temperature, humidity, light, noise level and mobile phone signals. The data’s purpose is to make Chicago a safer, cleaner place to be.

Smart and affordable

In Smart Cities like Chicago, sensors are the generators of data. The huge technological leaps they have made in recent years is enabling them to be installed in cities en masse – with their electronics and data transfer components now combined on a single silicon chip, they can be manufactured in bulk, pushing costs down. Not only that, but today’s sensors are much smaller than they were ten years ago – and considerably smarter. Their integrated electronics allow them to perform simple calculation processes, giving them the ability to make logical decisions independently. Some data transfer modules enable two-way communication with higher-level systems such as city clouds. “The use of smart sensor technologies is supporting advanced IT solutions, such as M2M communications and analytics,” explains Amit Sharma, one of market research organisation Technavio’s lead analysts for IT professional services research. “Smart motion sensors capture information and relay a signal to intelligent systems in case any changes are detected in the activity of residents. The use of sensor technology to support smart projects, such as smart traffic, smart lighting, smart waste management, and Smart Grids, is also on the rise.”
However, these smart sensors do not necessarily have to be permanently integrated into a city’s infrastructure. Sensors found in wearables such as fitness trackers and smartphones can also deliver valuable information for a Smart City; in fact, these gadgets are indispensable in gathering data about how a city’s inhabitants are actually behaving and moving around.

Multiple sensors combined in one platform

Other systems that have now developed are special Smart City sensor platforms, which combine a whole range of sensors in a single module. TrafiOne from Flir, for example, houses both a thermal imaging sensor and Wi-Fi tracking technology in order to capture data relating to vehicles, pedestrians and bikes at transport intersection points. Libelium’s Waspmote Plug & Sense platform can do even more: the company offers eleven models with more than 90 different integrated sensors. Their built-in solar modules allow them to operate off the electricity grid, while they also feature an extensive range of wireless interfaces, such as ZigBee, LoRaWAN, Wi-Fi and Sigfox, and the ability to be programmed wirelessly.
Chicago’s sensor infrastructure is in fact made up of similar platforms: the Waggle platforms developed by the Argonne National Laboratory. The scientists at work in the Chicago project have named it Array of Things (or AoT for short). “Array of Things will provide a level of detail not available in any city today,” says Charlie Catlett, AoT primary investigator and Director of the Computation Institute’s Urban Center for Computation and Data in Chicago. “This data will enable scientists, policy makers and citizens to work together to diagnose urban challenges and design solutions.”

(picture credits: Istockphoto: aleksandarvelasevic)

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