Seven Factors Behind the Rise of the Smart City Era
The future urban infrastructure is intelligent, connected, and aware. Today’s wireless networks and data platforms play an ever-increasing role in the integrated infrastructure landscape and provide momentum to the rise of the Smart City Era. Several familiar factors are converging to produce effective operations of decentralized infrastructure and provide new opportunities for efficiency, control, and situational awareness. While each factor has been around for some time, the combination of these factors is enabling rapid change to smart city infrastructure and services. This swift transformation is extending the edge of the industrial network, creating new terrain for engineering and IT companies. The industrial network is adapting beyond its traditional boundaries of transport. As these new layers become accessible, engineers are deriving value and intelligence from products and services related to implementation of edge devices, and the collection and interpretation of endpoint data.
These seven factors interweave to form a communication fabric that is transforming our cities:
1. Coverage, Coverage Everywhere!
Public carriers spend billions of dollars each year to expand and improve their network coverage. Until recently, the cost and complexity of connecting end devices via point-to-point links or SCADA connections limited the number of connected devices. Most cities now have 4G LTE system upgrades optimized for high speed data. This extensive public carrier coverage provides a backbone of transport for sensors and control elements and vastly reduces the cost of establishing a data link between a remote device, its data depository and its control source. Optimized, pervasive wireless coverage means more people will have smarter field devices, which vastly expands the opportunity for rich awareness of field conditions.
2. Expanding the Internet of Everything
Public carriers realize that sensors and other machine-to-machine (M2M) wireless endpoints are a unique class of devices that should be distinguished from other types of data plans. Carriers are embracing the idea that cheaper data plans enable more M2M devices. While these devices are network-connected most of the time, they generally transmit only small amounts of data at any given time, which adds negligible marginal traffic to the network. As a result, carriers earn more revenue with no additional network expense. These two factors, cheap data plans and pervasive wireless coverage, help push the idea that everything that can be connected will be connected—a basic tenant of the Internet of Everything. The evolutionary upgrade of device addressing from IPv4 to IPv6 also generates Internet growth by vastly increasing the number of connected hosts and the amount of data traffic transmitted. Advanced features like quality of service and auto-configuration make it even easier to add wireless endpoints into a network.
3. Big Processing in Small Packages
Today’s wireless device platforms, like Qualcomm’s Gobi, offer multi-radio communication modules and high-speed processing within a single chipset. Processors continue to shrink in size and increase in capacity, and many are designed specifically for power efficiency that remote sensors and other battery powered equipment require. The miniaturization of these modules allows their integration directly into edge devices. Moreover, the processors already within these chips render those devices intelligent for a fraction of the cost of traditional system integration. The integrated communication module facilitates rapid expansion of the Internet of Everything, as the cost of connected, intelligent devices becomes marginal. Toasters, refrigerators, pressure relief valves, streetlights and parking meters can be network-connected without a separately powered communications device. Today’s M2M chipsets can process, store and transmit data independent of additional computing hardware, and independent battery powered sensor devices can now be configured to transmit data for a period of years.
4. Cheap Bytes
Each year storage and processing becomes cheaper and more abundant. Consumers can purchase an external hard drive with two terabytes of storage for a fraction of historical storage costs, and online products, like Dropbox and iCloud, provide cheap storage in the cloud. Commercial versions of these devices and online services can store massive amounts of data facilitating greater degrees of processing and analytics. Products like OSIsoft’s Pi system serve as depositories and data historians for archived data received from the field.
5. Computing on the Edge…and in the Cloud
As data usage explodes exponentially, cloud computing grows as well. Today, everyone with a smart phone or tablet uses cloud computing when they open apps as they surf the net. Large amounts of data are securely transmitted and stored at remote data centers, allowing cheap, widespread use of information. Many companies cannot keep up with this big data explosion and look to automation guided by established rules to manage the blasts of data. The processing power now embedded within sensors and devices allows rules to be delegated downstream; data that meets conditions can be edge-processed locally, greatly reducing the amount of data that needs to be transmitted back. Both edge and cloud computing allow for exponential growth of field devices through more efficient data processing. They pave the way for alternate business models such as Software as a Service and the rise of artificial intelligence.
6. Vast Data Streams and Rivers of Rich Analytics
Supported by pervasive wireless coverage and robust processing power, the number of devices and frequency at which they collect data is ever-increasing. The time slices of information are becoming narrower. With edge processing, when certain conditions are met, devices can be instructed to collect and transmit data in a timescale closer to real-time, allowing for greater awareness and situational understanding of field conditions. This capability can greatly reduce operational costs by eliminating truck rolls to understand a remote issue. A wider set of data with more granular information allows analytic engines like Black & Veatch’s Asset360™ platform to create operational intelligence and facilitate adaptive planning to maximize system operations. Analysis of performance data can reveal operational trends that can reduce the likelihood of equipment failure.
7. There’s an App for That (and for THAT, too!)
Smart phones, tablets, conventional laptops and work stations are sources for interface, display and control. At home, people use them to access a wide array of services and information from fitness devices to alarm systems. The application development process has become simplified, and visual display capabilities have improved. With the advent of HTML5, application development opportunities will evolve even further. Our smart devices have morphed into a combination remote control-information display- social media communicator. With applications like the traffic navigator WAYZ, users help gather near-real-time traffic information, layering dynamic situational awareness on top of static sensors. In some cities, citizens can use their smart devices to photograph and report potholes and other street maintenance issues directly to municipal operations for repair.
Smart Integrated Infrastructure
These seven factors converge to become part of a smart integrated infrastructure that is more distributed, connected and intelligent. This infrastructure allows access into new network terrain where previously inaccessible endpoint data can now be captured from the network edge. Engineering companies can derive greater value from this widespread connectivity and can be involved with application layer systems that ride across the network. Engineering and IT companies can provide richer service offerings and greater operational insight for customers who want to improve performance or sustainability. Cities and utilities want to capitalize on emerging analytics to become more aware, linked, efficient and resilient—capstones of the Smart City revolution. As the infrastructure evolves, so must approaches to design, engineer and operate this infrastructure operate this infrastructure to gain full benefit that these converged capabilities and emerging technologies provide.
By Cleantech San Diego Board Member Rick Azer, Director of Development, Smart Integrated Infrastructure Group, Black & Veatch