Big Data - Under the Hood

The Smart City is Upon Us

By Steven Brew 

The Smart City is upon us! Following on the heels of the mobile revolution this new era in technology is poised to shake up the modern world. Although Smart Cities are cropping up in all areas around the globe there are still numerous definitions for what constitutes a Smart City. In this blog I will tackle what a Smart City means in practical terms, what challenges face a Smart City, and what will be needed to unleash the true potential of a Smart City.

What is a Smart City?

That depends on who you are asking. Dr. Sam Musa from the University of Maryland defines a Smart City as “a city that engages its citizens and connects its infrastructure electronically” and seeks to “integrate multiple technological solutions… to manage a city’s assets” [1]. The Smart City Council simplifies this definition and asserts that a Smart City is “[a city] that has digital technology embedded across all city functions”[2]. Lastly, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in the UK states “the concept is not static, there is no absolute definition of a smart city, no end point, but rather a process, or series of steps, by which cities become more ‘liveable’ and resilient and, hence, able to respond quicker to new challenges[3]”. Let’s tease out the underlying concepts in these interpretations and create a single cohesive definition. Acting as the nexus within an ever growing Internet of Things network, a Smart City monitors and analyzes operational data related to its assets with the explicit intent of improving quality of life for it’s citizens.

How does a Smart City work?

There are several avenues through which a metropolis can become a Smart City, but each of them requires sensors and a corresponding network. Once attached to a city resource (such as a trashcan or a streetlight) these sensors can connect with a larger network and transmit operational data that can be analyzed to illuminate areas of improvement previously unknown. A homegrown example of this can be found here in Philadelphia. A city wide initiative has been implemented to increase the number of parks and green spaces. However, it is difficult to predict which sites need to be watered and which sites can be skipped. City contractors were wasting time and money driving to locations that simply didn’t need to be watered. An effort has been made to address this by broadcasting soil moisture levels via sensors buried within the green spaces. City contractors can access this data to better triage which sites need water – saving the city money by only attending to the sites that need care.

What are the challenges facing a Smart City?

One of the challenges that every Smart CIty will face is what sensors to use and how to configure the corresponding network. A smart city will need an economical sensor able to push data a significant distance while only using minimal amounts of power to maintain a lengthy battery life. Thankfully, there are technological solutions to meet these demands. Companies such as Tracknet, Sagemcom, and Globalsat are already producing sensors ideally suited for a Smart City. These sensors can communicate with gateways miles away via an increasingly prominent network protocol called LoRaWAN. Unique amongst more traditional network protocols, LoRaWAn only requires minimal power to broadcast small bits of data over a large area[4]. This newer, more efficient, generation of sensors paired with LoRaWAN will become the front lines of a Smart City’s back end.

Organizing and distributing what is expected to be a colossal amount of data coming from these sensors will undoubtedly be the next hurdle. A Smart City will create a flood of data ripe for data analysts to dig through and find connections and correlations once hidden. However, getting this data to the right people will be an essential yet difficult task. Fortunately, Microshare™ can easily handle the burden and sift through this vast lake of information to allow the appropriate parties access to pertinent data. Microshare incorporates the concept of Rules to govern who can access the data and how much of the data they can see. Coupled with the automation provided by our backend Robots, Microshare is capable of distributing the appropriate levels of information to the right users with relative ease.

Tune in to the next blog by Tamanna Chawla for a technical explanation of Rules, Robots, and the Microshare solution.

Steven Brew is a Solutions Architect on the Development team at Microshare, Inc. 


%d bloggers like this: