The Internet of Things will first and foremost bring innovation into a city

21 October 2013, Last updated at, 15:29 EEST
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author: PantherMedia/Scanpix

The Internet of Things will change the life of a citizen living in a town or city fundamentally. Mirko Presser, Head of the Research & Innovation Department at the Alexandra Institute, Denmark, will read a report on this topic during the ICT2013 event, which will take place in Vilnius on 6–8 November.

At the centre of this experienced physicist and communications specialist’s vision of a sustainable city lie advanced information systems, turning information into solutions, increasing the integration of urban development with nature, and improving the quality of life of citizens. In a future city there are no traffic jams, waste containers are emptied as soon as they fill up, and environmental pollution is monitored and responded to in real time.

A next-generation network

“The Internet of Things is a global network of information, connecting not only computers, but also qualitative environment monitoring systems, household appliances, and sensors. If managed smartly, such a system would not only help to conserve limited resources, but also increase the attractiveness and quality of life in cities,” M. Presser explains.

According to him, there are virtually no limitations for a greater integration of technology into the management of contemporary cities. The rapid development of science and IT technologies has ensured a sufficient number of environment-monitoring sensors and human-servicing solutions.

The problem lies elsewhere in that the huge amount of information that is being generated isn’t being analysed constantly and the decisions based on it are only made when specialists are dealing with a specific issue. For example, an analysis of public transportation passenger traffic is only performed when the management of the company which services the system isn’t satisfied with the financial results.

Whereas in the vision of the Internet of Things, information is created and analysed constantly. In a future city digital brains would be constantly monitoring passenger traffic and modifying transport intensity. Decisions would be made immediately, not when the problem has become persistent. Such systems are being tested and used on a larger or smaller scale to plan public transportation in many metropolitan cities.

Searching for the missing link

“We aren’t using contemporary IT to the fullest because we are unable to turn information into decisions,” Presser says.

The specialist notes that in some key areas advanced information management systems have been used successfully for decades. For instance, the generation and transmission of electricity via distribution networks and cross-border links is coordinated by the SCADA system, which makes decisions based on the current information. This allows for a 24/7 swift response without human input.

For example, when the wind picks up and wind power plants in the Northern part of Germany start generating more electricity than the local demand at that present moment, the SCADA system diverts the surplus power into the neighbouring countries’ networks. The analogous systems of those networks check if more power is needed – if not, the surplus electricity is transferred further and quite often is returned to Germany – to the parts of the country with lower generation capacities.

This could serve as an example for city management. According to Presser, an ideal electronic system for controlling a future city consists of sensor-equipped devices (computers, household appliances, and means of transport), the interpretation of information and the transmission of the results to a decision-maker – a human whose role could also be more or less automated.

Life in a smart city

Adapting the Internet of Things to city management would allow the limiting of the amount of air pollutants. Installing special sensors or connecting the existing ones to a uniform system would allow the constant monitoring of air pollution in the city; if the sensors' values reached critical limits, the appropriate institutions would be informed automatically. Such a decision would help to reduce the need for personnel to conduct environmental research and reduce problem response time.

Waste containers with special sensors could also be a part of the smart system – when full, they would send a signal to a central computer which is responsible for garbage truck routes. Thus, heavy garbage trucks would be directed more efficiently. This would help to decrease costs and environmental pollution.

One of the most popular smart city systems used today is traffic sensors; it is also used in Lithuania. The information received from such sensors helps to control traffic lights and plan traffic node reconstruction. The creators of a future city suggest improving such systems by adding advanced street lighting control. The lighting could be more intense in places with greater traffic and pedestrian flow and minimal where no movement is registered at the present moment.

This and many more solutions of sustainable development are planned for real-life testing in the developing of a town in Denmark, Vinge. The region, which is famous for agriculture, should see the construction of a benchmark future city in as soon as 2014. Business centres, residential areas surrounded by parks, and a modern train station are planned. Vinge's transport, infrastructure, and resources will be managed using the latest sustainable development solutions, which will turn the upcoming town into an ideal platform for testing ideas. Society, not scientists, will be the judge of the smart town's solutions. Society’s decision to move into the town to live and conduct business will be the litmus test determining the vision's attractiveness.

The Internet of Things is just one of the many topics of the largest information and communications technology event ICT213 Create, Connect, Grow, which will take place in Vilnius on 6–8 November. 4,000 global participants are expected. ICT2013 is one of the major events of the Presidency of the EU Council. It is being organized by the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the European Commission, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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