THE VERY IDEA OF A SMART CITY is amassing data from an urban multifaceted tissue and use it for the benefit of a community. Smart City is no longer a concept, it is a reality realised to varying degrees across the planet. A town on the foot of the Ural mountains might not have advanced building management systems, although its citizens would fully enjoy state of the art transportation app. Penetration of smart technologies interaction between a city dweller and a city manager has different depth and it is happening.
Advancement of telecommunication, internet and computing technologies and its symbiosis with manufacturing, services, logistics is driven in a greatest degree by a private sector. Vendors and providers better each other in giving consumer the most lucrative piece of tech, and communities get filled in with devices, solutions, apps and things that organise their lives, move them around and protect them.
There is another stream that moves in the opposite direction to this wave of technology in cities, a wave that has its aim to govern and unify the wild dance of private tech. There is no doubt, when these two streams meet, a pool of properly governed city technology shall emerge.
One of the steps of this sort is a British Standards company, BSI Group, report published in 2015 City Data Survey Report has defined main data sets, which over thirty cities that took part in the survey, found critical for functioning of a smart city.
There are fourteen data sets, of which the most important are social, infrastructure and energy. We shall focus on energy on this page, however today’s technology wipes off categorisation in managing a city, and energy alone appears to be too short sighted, as its impact on social and infrastructure or, say, geospatial development, is too significant.
Traditionally one of the largest contributors to a city energy spend is a street lighting. Number of lamps and their furniture is measured in thousands even in a small size community. You have your roads, your streets, your alleys and car parks. For decades architects and urban planners vocalised how good street lighting affects citizens’ wellbeing and feeling for security, and when light emitting diodes emerged, engineers have thought up of a new function for a city lighting. If each diode is a semiconductor then data transmission is possible. An aha moment that many a computer geeks experienced in early 80s: there are two computers and a modem. Machines can talk to each other!
There it started back in the second decade of the second millennium. Lighting seized being solely lighting anymore, it became a medium. Industry was disrupted, and all conversations today are about connectivity. Industry fairs look more like IT symposiums. Yet what is it for a city in connecting lights?
When a city manager steps out on the road to seek for an answer to this question, he or she would find not even a crossroad, but a noodle multilevel interchange of choices, standards, protocols and even consequences.
These are just a handful of services connected lighting can offer:
- Control and operational monitoring. Switching lights on and off, or conditional dimming (based on the time of day, natural illuminance or presence of dwellers) are prime functions in this category, but there is also a possibility to monitor power usage in real time and tracking status of the fixture.
- Asset management including almost all operating characteristics. Simply put, maintenance crew would be informed of the symptoms of potential failure before the luminaire fails.
- Metering. Apparently this feature is the least popular amongst some authorities. With all benefits of real time metering of energy use, there are still nay-sayers who doubt that this measurement is accurate. Advocates of the approach site that a luminaire that switches on when its built-in sensor detects daylight has reached a threshold and turns on the light source, consumes much less energy than the luminaire that is programmed to switch on at seven pm sharp. Communities that use LED lighting may also benefit from the special tariffs calculated for this type of light source as opposed to a conventional one.
- Security. Gunshot detection and triangulation. Acoustic sensors carried by the luminaire shall detect and signal law enforcement professionals exact location of an accident. Another basic feature is CCTV monitoring. There are fixtures already that incorporate a sleek camera that no longer spoils aesthetics of a fixture. Chemical and radiation detection is possible too.
- Footfall and traffic detection, a feature that urban management shall find useful, as well as retailers and property developers. One of the ways is to count…phones connected to a wireless network, although this data might not be fully accurate. We all know people who carry two phones on them.
Examples of connected lighting already exist. Majority are in the US (San Diego, Jacksonville and others). Glasgow boasts one of the most advanced systems in Europe. The city beats contenders by the fact that data from the networked lights are transmitted to their central operations centre.
When was the last time you had to plug in a cable to your laptop to go online? True, WiFi is everywhere. Although a city network goes beyond this. Market flourishes with choices: LoRa, Sigfox, LiFi and the fifth generation of mobile networks to name the few.
LiFi runs on light waves as opposed to radio waves used by WiFi and this makes the speed of data transmission incredibly fast. LED’s can be used as transmitters. LiFi has a lot of opponents as well as proponents and technology is developing very fast so that the results may be expected very soon.
5G is on the rise and telecoms are wiring their gears to spread the network in full steam.
LoRa today is considered one of the most secure, reliable and accessible formats for connecting Things into Internet. LoRa stands for Low Power Wide Area Network; it works on different frequencies of the free radio spectrum, which helps penetrate even in the underground locations.
PoE or Power over Ethernet is being explored by CISCO-Philips alliance. The European lighting leader has brought the way of energising and simultaneously controlling its lighting installation indoor. Ethernet today is capable of carrying 60W of power, which is enough for an office or a school yet still not there for an outdoor application.
Research and debates are underway which of this format prevails and communities should be included in the discussion: they will be the ones living with the chosen format of data and power transmission.
The point several degrees more important than the transmission is data. As with all on the internet: who shall own it? When you had your power grid, there was no options: energy authority would install, maintain and manage the assets. Today it is not so straight forward. What is of more value? Tangible furniture or data it gathers? The former depreciates over time, the latter gains value. The risk is that underfunded communities might agree to offers from providers and vendors to trade their citizens data in exchange of equipment. It takes a firm decision to ensure the data remains in the ownership of citizens and taxpayers, like it is done in Glasgow or Copenhagen.
This is not a search for the next villain, but an attempt to find possible ways and standards to govern, manage and utilise the gathered information. Judging by the functions street lighting can perform in a connected city, it is a lot of data. Public, as the main stakeholder, if not confident in the way data is operated, will unlikely approve civic initiatives and engage. Standardisation of data, communication technology and protocols may be able to facilitate the deployment and adoption of a smart city ideas.
If we get back to our multi talented street lighting concept: information, captured by sensors, flows into the central operation, but the media and formats are highly heterogeneous. There will be a need for this information to be normalised, occasionally translated, classified, stored, and eventually destroyed. Today vendors propose their own solutions to manage their piece of infrastructure. GE offers a platform it calls LightGrid, InteliLight has its own street light control software, Philips Lighting adds CityTouch, Acquity accompanies their lighting with various packages of their app called Roam.
I am only talking about lighting. Water will have their own, fire control will certainly use a software native to their equipment. All this is reminiscent of a boom of light planning applications in early 2000, when each manufacture developed their own stuff, and engineers and consultants would have to learn the intricacies of each package. Then Dialux and Relux came along and got everyone from misery. Thinking more widely: AutoCAD has become an ubiquitous standard for engineering community, and its evolution of Revvit that permitted an HVAC guy and a lighting guy work together in one environment independently from each other. “It is still not easy, says Murray Reynolds, CAD Manager of JWL, a large Australian contractor firm in Dubai, and it feels like you have just changed from a Cessna cockpit to Airbus 380.” Although the result is one engineering grid incorporating all vital systems. Similar approach from silos to homogeneous management of data is the future. Presently international standardisation bodies (CEN, CENEC, ETSI, ISO, IEC) are working on standards of interoperability, machine to machine communication, data security and protocols and even trying to unify terminology.
This foundation shall give confidence to city managers in the technical specification, processes and overall strategy of smart city services and equipment. As a consequence, standardised approach to processing and storing the data, shall become the very benefit for a community, that smart city is designed to achieve.