The concept of smart cities is one of the hottest trends for Internet of Things technology at present -- and not only for cities themselves, but also for telcos and service providers.
This month's gathering of technology thought leaders at the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council's Internet of Things Conference in Boston -- the site of a major six-year project recently announced by Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) including a citywide rollout of fiber and smart cities projects (see: Verizon Fiber Rollout Will Make Boston a 'Smahter' City) -- drove this point home quite literally with extensive punditry on two key smart cities elements: smart traffic and smart parking.
"We are working with the city of Boston on its Vision Zero initiative," George Clernon, a senior consultant on IoT product development at Verizon, told a near-packed audience as a panel moderator at the conference's smart cities breakout session, "Smart Cities -- Where are we now?" Vision Zero is an IoT-supported municipal endeavor to eliminate all fatal and otherwise serious traffic collisions in Boston within the next 14 years, leveraging smart cities sensor technology to track and measure traffic patterns while improving flow, reducing congestion, and speeding up mass transit.
"We're gonna bring... technology to make it real [and provide] what people need," said Clernon.
This need, according to Clernon and his panelists, is most definitely there for cities in all stages of "smartness."
"Parking is something that causes people a lot of trouble," said panelist Douglas Hausladen, Director of the Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking for the City of New Haven, Connecticut. "Thirty percent of traffic... is caused by people looking for parking. [In New Haven,] our problem is parking."
Hausladen discussed his own city's partnership with a Massachusetts startup called Smarking (a portmanteau of "smart" and "parking"), using cloud-based APIs on the company's platform to help enable dynamic parking, license-plate reading, and other smart-parking technologies. Hausladen reported that open APIs are helping to "unlock" dynamic pricing, "increase payment availability" via mobile platforms (for both short-term meter payments and long-term parking permits), and "value parking fairly, equitably, and appropriately."
"We'll no longer give meter-reading tickets [and instead] give you the option to extend your stay on-screen -- and push you to our garage if you're gonna extend past three [or] four hours," said Hausladen. "We can use dynamic pricing in a way to [move] our customers into the right choice for them."
In this way, smart cities technology transcends the immediate demands of city residents and passers through -- and, explained Clernon's panelists, is just as much about protecting (and even adding to) the municipal coffers. (Indeed, it was no accident that the theme of this year's conference was "Moving Beyond the Hype to Revenue.")
"There's this one bloody streetlight; it is always out, and if it's not out, it's flickering -- and I know I've called the city, I know the neighbors have called the city, and how many trips... would it take to fix that for most cities?" kvetched panelist Chris Davis, a smart cities senior advisor at GRIDSMART, about his own city -- nearby Newburyport, Massachusetts. "Well, first of all, they'll send somebody out at night to make sure that the resident who reported it wasn't lying. Next they'll say, 'Okay, I'm gonna write it down on a clipboard; I'm gonna tie a little yellow ribbon around the streetlight pole.' And then the next day they're gonna send a truck out to really figure out what's wrong with it [and say,] 'Well damn, I don't have the right parts, or I don't have the right tools.' So on average if you're gonna fix a city asset it's two to three truck hauls."
For Davis, therefore, the IoT-enabled smart city is the practical city. Davis explained how shortsighted city hall budget makers often shoot themselves in their respective feet by failing to invest in smart cities technology.
"So two guys in a truck at how many dollars an hour? What does that cost versus a $100 streetlight controller or a GRIDSMART system that can tell you what's going on at the intersection?" Davis asked rhetorically. "But the problem is that most cities focus on the 20% capital and financing cost to buy the asset. They don't focus on the other 80%, which is the lifecycle cost -- energy, maintenance, operations. So we need to change the orientation of the way cities think about this stuff."
The panel also elaborated on the need for cities to "smarten up" traffic lighting. Davis pointed out that it is normal for cities to retime their traffic lighting no more often than every five to six years. Clernon agreed, noting that many cities may take as long as ten years to retime their traffic lights -- and that such needlessly long delays can be things of the past with Verizon's IoT and smart cities DevOps platform, Thingspace.
"If a car is coming out of the parking lot, could we know and inform the light to turn on...? Yes," said Clernon. "This is what we're working on today. We're gonna do that. Thingspace is our IoT platform where we want to bring partners together, so that, for example, if the city has GRIDSMART and it has Philips Lighting, the technology comes together through Thingspace to give... that control, that insight, and also allow [these] things to happen."
"If you have remote diagnostic help monitoring at the site, you now know what's going on with that asset," Davis summed up. "You can save tons of money -- tons!"
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer