Modern cities are made up of so many systems, and shift and change so much with time that it’s easy to think of them as being “alive”.
But as cities have grown, the systems they were built on have become strained as more people have come to rely on them. In many cities across the world, systems like roads, sewage, traffic grids, electricity, and water serve several million people when they were initially designed for fewer than one million.
Think of South Africa’s biggest cities: water systems break all the time, roads are full of potholes, power outages are frequent, and gridlock is a daily reality for citizens – all because our cities’ infrastructure isn’t up to the task of supporting the number of people who use it.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum are “smart cities”, cities that use technology to run more efficiently than ever before. These “smart cities” are a recent development, however, as the technologies they use to do this only came of age in the last 20 years or so.
Thanks to the invention of tiny internet-connected sensors and cameras, complex wireless data communication networks, app ecosystems, and massive computing power in private datacentres and in the cloud, it’s now possible to easily and affordably monitor any conceivable condition within any given system – city infrastructure included – and feed that information back to a central computer where it can be analysed and actioned, or to an app that can present the information to the end-user in a helpful manner.
By deploying such solutions, cities can quite easily turn themselves “smart”, virtually overnight.
If you think sensor technology isn’t yet ready for this kind of application, think again: today’s sensors are so advanced and have so many potential applications that the possibilities are almost literally limitless.
For example, there are companies that produce sensors that can even be embedded within concrete as it’s being poured. This gives engineers real-time humidity and temperature readings that let them know exactly how far along the curing and drying process is, and thus just how strong the concrete is right now.
This saves time and money as engineers don’t need to second-guess curing time frames or drill into the concrete to determine how dry it is. Plus, it makes the concrete stronger as no holes have been drilled into it that could compromise its structural integrity down the line.
Just think how helpful it would be if city technicians are warned through sensors embedded in roads and bridges months before infrastructure fails, giving them plenty of time to do something about it before the worst happens.
Or a future where roads and intersections are monitored for congestion, and the right people are automatically deployed to address any traffic-impeding situations that arise, or better – traffic light timings are remotely updated to enable smoother traffic flow.
Or a time when an app can inform you of the availability of parking spots, the entertainment and public travel options around you and more.
With today’s technology, such a future is not pie in the sky, and the world’s biggest cities are making use of it to make their citizens’ lives better than ever. San Francisco, for example, has already adopted several smart city initiatives that use data-gathering sensors to provide its citizens with advanced services, all delivered via smartphone apps.
One size does not fit all
The prevailing wisdom around the notion of “smart cities” is that no single approach will work in every city, however. Circumstances vary in everything from government priorities to citizen demands to geography and more, and one technology solution for the purposes of “smart”-ness logically cannot fit all.
And then there’s the notion that “smart-ness” itself might not even be desirable as it can lead to changes that residents aren’t happy about, like the gentrification of established areas, which has the potential to chase current residents away.
However, if we look at the concept from a much higher elevation, “smart city” guidelines are really all about generating and analysing actionable data.
Therefore, it’s fair to say that any city can be “smartened” through the use of off-the-shelf technologies that are widely available today.
IoT at the heart
It’s impossible to divorce the concept of a smart city from the idea of “the Internet of Things”, or IoT as it’s commonly referred to today.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the concept of billions of tiny devices with intelligence built-in, all talking to each other and generating data about the world around them. This data is sent to cloud servers, analysed, and then used for a variety of purposes, and is often fed back into end-user-facing apps so they can make use of it.
If you’ve used Waze on your smartphone to navigate to your destination using the most efficient routes, you’ve seen the benefits of leveraging the data generated by the Internet of Things first-hand.
In this case the “things” are smartphones and the data that’s being used is the location data generated by other Waze users as they drive; their movements are interpreted by Waze’s datacentre as traffic conditions and used to determine travel times and optimal routes. This is sent back to your smartphone as routing advice and an estimation of your time of arrival.
Anyone who’s used Waze has also likely been surprised at just how uncannily accurate its ETAs are – this is the power of data analysis done right.
Let me count the Waze
Going beyond just Waze, the intelligent connected devices that make up the IoT can be sensors, video cameras, Wi-Fi hotspots, appliances, smartphones, Bluetooth beacons and much more besides.
Some of the industries benefitting from IoT adoption:
- Manufacturing: Sensors provide data that’s used to increase factory efficiency and prevent equipment breakdowns through preventative maintenance
- Home Automation: Sensors and internet data tell home automation systems when to adjust temperatures and turn lights on and off, how many people are at home, and more
- Retail: Embedded sensors help retailers track stock, prevent theft, and Bluetooth beacons assist shoppers in finding what they’re looking for
- Agriculture: Farmers are using IoT to boost yields by monitoring soil conditions (temperature, humidity, chemical and nutrient levels etc.), allowing them to plant the right crops for those conditions and harvest them at the optimal time
- Medicine: IoT enables patient self-monitoring and improved health management, also helps with equipment monitoring to prevent service outages that occur through unexpected breakdowns
- Hospitality: Facial recognition systems are helping returning customers to check-in automatically, AI applied to facial recognition can inform hotel staff if a guest is hungry so they can offer food pre-emptively and much more
These are just six examples of how technology, through the IoT, is enhancing the everyday things that humans do.
With the myriad challenges faced by cities in 2020, it’s inevitable that solutions rooted in the IoT will become more appealing to city planners and managers as they work to enhance their cities with tech.
IT resellers, you can probably see where this is going.
If you’re not selling IoT solutions, or using it inside your business, it’s time to start thinking about it.
Even in South Africa, locally represented OEMs have begun marketing IoT solutions to their customers. Companies like Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM all have IoT offerings available here, and internationally Intel, Cisco and Qualcomm have started their own IoT initiatives to drive research, development and adoption of the tech which will likely have local effects down the line too.
IoT in a box offers end-to-end solutions that can be adapted to whatever your or the end-user’s requirements are, and present a great place to start any journey towards becoming an IoT reseller and positioning yourself as a go-to supplier when the smart city revolution inevitably gains momentum.
This isn’t idle speculation, either: President Cyril Ramaphosa specifically mentioned smart cities and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in his recent State of the Nation address, so it really is just a matter of time before demand for IoT solutions shoots the lights out.
And that’s a train you want to be on.
Talk to us
As a major Microsoft partner, Tarsus Distribution is your go-to contact when starting down this path.
Speak to us today about your IoT options, and learn all about how the tech can shape your business and supercharge your growth opportunities, now and in the future, whether it’s through work with cities to make them smarter, or by adopting IoT within your own business.