urban heat

Monitoring urban heat islands

More than 60 million people in the US are under an excessive heat warning or heat advisory, and meteorologists say hot temperatures are likely to persist across large sections of the country for the entire Summer. Heat waves are also enveloping Europe - a clear effect of climate change and global warming.

Cities are generally warmer than rural areas, and it is increasingly important for local administrations to map the hottest neighborhoods, monitor key indicators of heat-related health risks, take action and protect vulnerable citizens and communities. However, many cities lack weather station networks that can monitor heat islands comprehensively, so they look for alternative solutions to reliably collect and correlate data about atmospheric and surface urban heat.

Several systems have been used over time for this purpose, including satellite tracking. In the 1990’s, LANDSAT TM satellite data and GIS software were used to map micro urban heat islands in Dallas, Texas, suggesting heat exposure to be significantly higher in low-income, densely populated neighborhoods. More recent research projects had similar findings: the poorest areas tend to be significantly hotter than the richest in 76% of urban US counties.

An alternative monitoring and data collection system was piloted in France by a team of researchers from the University of Toulouse. Supervised by meteorology researcher Eva Marques, their approach leverages temperature sensors in connected cars to map urban heat.

After a first experiment in the city of Toulouse, the team created temperature maps in several western European cities using a database comprising millions of car sensor measurements that manufacturers had collected for insurance purposes from 2016 to 2018. The researchers found they could reliably estimate temperature variations for spaces as small as 200 by 200 meters with fine-grained data collected at 10-second intervals. Their method proved to be effective in assessing urban heat at street level – and highly beneficial even in small cities that lack weather station networks, but nonetheless need to have reliable heat monitoring.

Crowdsourcing data is a new hope to produce and share maps with these municipalities in the years to come,” said Marques. The challenge is ensuring data consistency and quality while scaling-up pilot projects. A robust architecture for data management and analysis is also crucial, and some cities are now planning to integrate urban heat islands monitoring in new or existing smart IoT infrastructures.


interoperability

Interoperability, standards do matter

Smart Cities hold a big promise, that’s of using technology to improve quality of life, mitigate climate change effects, increase public safety, and create inclusive communities. Running this technology requires a robust network infrastructure – and the more interconnected and integrated this network is, the more it will be able to generate valuable data and feed wise decision-making and, ultimately, the smarter, more sustainable and resilient the city will be.

Sounds like a logical and simple way to go, but most City manager know the implementation may have some pitfalls. Vendor-locked, proprietary technologies are a common obstacle to the progress of smart projects, since they prevent the network to integrate a number of different devices and applications, scale up and add new functionality, exchange and share data.

How to sort this out? The watchword is interoperability.

Open standards and protocols are paramount for a city to build a forward-looking infrastructure and a mesh network to host multiple applications and grow them over time. It’s also a smart way to save money (city projects using proprietary technology cost 30 per cent more than those using open technology), reduce complexity, and avoid duplicated implementation and maintenance costs. Don’t forget that proprietary solutions typically mean impossible or expensive integration with other systems, so they also involve a higher risk of obsolescence and poor return-on-investment.

At Paradox Engineering, we are outspoken endorsers of interoperability and open standards. Our technologies support 6LoWPAN (login or register to read our paper ‘Creating truly open cities’), we are active members of the uCIFI Alliance, and we have two certified TALQ-compliant products, specifically PE Smart CMS and PE Smart Gateway.

The TALQ Consortium was founded in 2012 to define a standard protocol for outdoor lighting. Now celebrating the 10th anniversary, it has evolved as a reference framework for achieving compatibility between smart city applications. The 2.4.0 version of the Smart City Protocol was published earlier this year, and the number of certifications continue to climb.

This is good news for Smart Cities and all the ecosystem: let’s work together to create open, interoperable solutions and turn technology into an opportunity for sustainable, inclusive urban growth.


climate neutral

100 European cities invest to be climate neutral by 2030

Good news from Europe. The EU Commission has just announced that 100 cities will join a program to cut emissions and become climate neutral by 2030. The selected cities are from all 27 member states and represent about 12% of European population.

The ‘Cities Mission’ is one of the five Horizon Europe research and innovation programs for the years 2021-2027. The participating cities include Marseille in France, Dortmund in Germany, Zaragoza in Spain, Parma in Italy, Lahti in Finland, Thessaloniki in Greece, Košice in Slovakia, and many more.

They will receive a total of EUR 360 million of Horizon Europe funding to support clean mobility, energy efficiency and green urban planning, with specific investment plans about energy, buildings, waste management, and urban transportation systems.

The green transition is making its way all over Europe right now, but there’s always a need for trailblazers, who set themselves even higher goals,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, while announcing the 100 selected cities.

Cities will be asked to develop ‘Climate City Contracts’ to detail their plans for climate neutrality and how they will make an impact by leveraging smart technologies or improving existing services and systems. These contracts will act as highly visible commitments, and cities will be required to engage citizens, research institutes, and private companies to share know-how and potentially spur further investments.

Cities are at the forefront in addressing the climate crisis, and this program may accelerate the energy transition and the changes Europe needs to reach climate neutrality.


IoT skills

The gap in IoT skills hinders Smart Cities

Cities acknowledge the beneficial impact of smart investments to raise productivity, create jobs, improve safety, enable sustainable growth, and make public services more efficient and accessible.

This consolidated awareness will drive technology spending on smart projects in the near future: considering 2018 as baseline, budgets worldwide are forecasted to more than double by 2023 and increase from US$81 billion to US$189.5 billion.

If public investments in advanced technologies and the infrastructure underpinning them is growing, what is preventing cities from starting or accelerating their smart journeys? Shrinking financial resources and the difficult search for additional funding are usually reported by local authorities, together with regulatory hurdles that slow down large-scale projects.

Siloed, piecemeal governance is also an issue. But even when local authorities have enough resources and a far-sighted governance, the development of smart services may experience troubles: inadequate IoT skills and technology expertise stand out as one of the most relevant barriers to the development of effective solutions.

Cities and utilities are increasingly asking for help to successfully manage their IoT projects, from the design to roll-out, up to operation and maintenance management. Expert partners and professional support services are fundamental to design and engineer smart applications, assess the necessary network infrastructure and connectivity layout, configure, and set up all solution components. Once the solution is up and running, equally important skills are needed to achieve the best possible performance from installed networks and devices, smoothly manage troubleshooting and address possible hiccups.

 

Explore how a gap in IoT skills is hindering smart projects: download our report and discover what can be done to overcome this obstacle.


interoperability smart lighting

Smart Lighting: cities should tender for interoperability

Public lighting management changed a lot since the introduction of smart IoT technologies. Remote monitoring and control are now possible, with immediate benefits in terms of power and energy bill saving, GHG emission reduction, improved maintenance and quality of service.

But how can we ensure connected streetlights benefit the city, its people and the common good? LUCI Association picked on the question in a recent paper, discussing key elements of the technical and operational framework of Smart Lighting, and the social and societal side.

Interoperability stands out as a focus topic. Cities are increasingly worried about vendor lock-in, as proprietary technologies and single-application networks suffer impossible or expensive integration with other systems, run a higher risk of obsolescence and ultimately provide a poor return-on-investment.

As LUCI Association’s paper clearly explains, the concept of interoperability in Smart Lighting comes into play in three levels. The network level is about the carrier of the communication among connected devices; the software level is about the shared language these devices need to interact. The hardware level relates to the physical devices to be interfaced, considering for instance LED luminaires, smart controllers, and environmental sensors.

As a technology provider who has always been agnostic to the application, at Paradox Engineering we focus on the development of smart IoT networks supporting a number of field devices and third-party systems, independently of the make. In a word, we head for interoperability.

Our technologies are standard-based and feature open data models: 6LoWPAN, TALQ, uCIFI Alliance, but also DALI, Nema, Zhaga are some of the industry standards you will hear the most from us.

Interoperability grants cities the flexibility to address the most pressing challenges and strategically plan for future, innovative applications. Less costs today, and no barriers when it comes to adding new devices and applications over time.

Are you ready to tender for interoperability? Contact our experts for a non-binding consultancy about smart interoperable networks for Open Cities!


road safety

Road safety in cities: smart technologies help

2020 was the deadliest year in the US for traffic crashes in over a decade, with a 7% increase in fatalities over the previous year. The unfortunate trend continued in 2021, with about 20 thousand victims in the first half of the year.

Last week, the US Department of Transportation announced a new comprehensive National Roadway Safety Strategy, a roadmap for addressing what has become a true national crisis. Adopting a “Safe System Approach”, the strategy acknowledges human mistakes in crashes, but urges the design of redundant systems and the implementation of smart technologies to make roads safer for everyone.

Generally speaking, there is a pressing need for new systems to prevent traffic accidents. Vehicles are increasingly equipped with sensors, advanced driver-assistance systems, and automatic emergency braking that improve navigation and safety. Infrastructure is also becoming more intelligent to enable traffic monitoring and control, thus contributing to accident prevention and quicker intervention when needed.

But cities are highly complex system, and there are many and competing demands placed on their transport systems. There is no single silver bullet measure, and the mix of interventions that works in one city may not be enough in another community.

According to the International Transport Forum – coordinating the ‘Safer City Streets’ initiative at the OECD since 2016 –, smart technology plays an increasingly important role in road safety and feed both accurate monitoring (think of video surveillance at critical junctions or along busy itineraries) and data-driven decisions related to traffic engineering and speed management.

The timing and configuration of traffic lights are also very important. A simple but effective example is the optimization of pedestrian intervals: real-life experiments proved that indicating “walk” to pedestrians several seconds before turning traffic gets a green light improves pedestrian safety a lot, making them more visible and decreasing the risk of being hit by a car.

Vehicles are becoming increasingly connected by devices that interact with each other and the road infrastructure. Data flows resulting from Vehicle to Everything (V2X) technologies and their interaction with the so called Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems can feed emergency braking warning, distance sensing, improper-driving detection, collision-avoidance systems, weather-related skid warnings, and optimized intersection management.

But road safety is not only about private motor vehicles and pedestrians. As micro mobility and cycle riding are on the up, cities are increasingly looking at road safety from a wider perspective. Space is being reallocated, effective parking management and curb management are needed to ensure a safe access to different urban transportation systems. Smart technologies are definitely part of the improvements being made to road infrastructure.


cascading risks

A resilient infrastructure to tackle cascading risks

The eruption of the undersea volcano in Tonga last January is an illustrative case of how cascading risks work. A disruptive event triggers another, then another, in an incremental chain that exacerbates multiple vulnerabilities becoming critical in a certain environment.

The Covid-19 pandemic made clear that crisis don’t come alone. While cities were fighting the health emergency, many of them were impacted by climate extremes – floods, droughts, cyclones – that made the existing issues of aging and inadequate urban infrastructures come to the surface and jeopardized the effort towards the economic and social recovery.

Cascading risks have become more visible in recent years, as cities can barely recover from an extreme weather event or a natural disaster, before being struck with a follow-on cybercrime attack, civil unrest, or other social disruptions.

As disruption has now become the ‘new normal’, city managers need to endorse resilience as the overarching approach to tackle cascading risks from climate change, urbanization, and digitalization.

But resilience is not something that can be achieved overnight, said Elaine Tan, Deputy Director at the Center for Livable Cities in Singapore, during a recent online event by the Resilient Cities Network and The World Bank Group.

It is paramount to reshape urban models, design and implement resilient infrastructures, leveraging smart technologies to improve the efficiency and quality of key public services (think of power and water supplies, mobility systems, law enforcement, just to mention a few) while making them resilient and accessible even in crisis times. Cascading risks will be less frightening if the city relies on a smart urban infrastructure to monitor and control critical services.

“The ‘hardware’ infrastructure resilience has got to do a lot with the community resilience, the ‘software’ side of things”, added Elaine Tan. And that’s absolutely true: there can’t be a smart resilient city without smart resilient citizens.

In this uncertain time, it is especially important for local governments to engage people, creating trust and open lines of communication and collaboration. Only cohesive communities can respond to multiple, ongoing cascading risks and thrive even in the face of adversity.


transportation equity

Inclusive cities pursue transportation equity

In the global-local effort to shape sustainable, resilient, and inclusive cities, mobility systems are at stake. There is an urgent call for transportation equity, that means designing and delivering transport systems that are safe, accessible, reliable, and affordable for all, including the mobility-underprivileged communities.

Mobility is a critical success factor for socio-economic growth, but it is still far from being equitable in many places, points out a recent white paper by the World Economic Forum, BCG and the University of St Gallen.

The report analyzes three archetypical cities and their transportation ecosystems: the car-centric Chicago in the USA, the compact middleweight Berlin in Germany, and the high-density megacity Beijing in China. Researchers warn that the pure increase of mobility infrastructure does not always improve social inclusion, as in all investigated cities the best results came when considering both transportation supply and demand.

Accurate data collection is pivotal to better understand rider demand and the specific mobility challenges affecting minorities, disabled and economically disadvantaged people. Data-driven decisions allowed cities to pilot some simple but highly effective mobility initiatives.

In Chicago, adding first- and last-mile shuttles to and from local public transit stations increased the number of jobs accessible to underserved communities by up to 90%. A scaled-up metro pass reservation system in Beijing allows people to pre-book their slot on a train and bypass queues at the station to enter the train directly, resulting in commuting times to be decreased by 29%. In Berlin, a differentiated service level on public transit, like business-class carriages on trains, increased the share of public transit trips by 11% while at the same time generating 28% higher revenue for the operator.

Looking at the 15-minute city planning concept, cities strive to reduce traffic and make life easier for drivers (including parking search), at the same time they try to strengthen public transportation systems.

But the report also suggests that transportation equity eschews the cars/public transport binary perspective. Truly inclusive cities should consider innovative, multimodal transportation solutions, where scooters, bikes, and electric vehicles play a role and contribute to safe, accessible, reliable, and affordable mobility systems for all.


smart urban sensors

Smart urban sensors become ubiquitous

The number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices worldwide is forecast to almost triple from 8.74 billion in 2020 to more than 25.4 billion units in 2030. IoT devices are used in all types of industry verticals and consumer markets, and Smart Cities have seen a mass proliferation in recent years.

As we know, nowadays cities leverage smart urban sensors to extensively collect data and manage their infrastructure, power and water networks, essential public services, and more. Recent ABI Research report took a position on the most relevant trends to happen in 2022 and confirmed smart urban sensors are on their way to ubiquity, as the number of use cases where IoT can offer added value is multiplying.

Emerging sensor-based solutions include automated traffic management at intersections, people density and flow tracking for Covid-19 distancing, air quality monitoring, advanced public security applications featuring mobile surveillance and gunshot detection. However, IoT deployments in smart cities are still primarily aimed at efficiency improvements and cost savings, sustainability and decarbonization.

Following the hype of COP26 event in Glasgow, sustainability and carbon neutrality will be a pressing challenge for cities. The EU’s Green Deal and pledges from cities and governments across the globe will raise the bar for cities, that naturally stand on the front line in suffering the effects of climate change and trying to mitigate them.

Key smart urban sensors applications such as smart lighting, smart waste, or smart parking will continue to drive investments in 2022, says ABI Research. Much of their momentum is due to both the increasing range of high-performance sensor technologies and the emergence of powerful edge AI compute, with the opportunity of unlocking more value from captured data and enabling predictive intelligence.

Despite the increase in popularity of circular economy models, analysts fear there will be no measurable progress in the next 12 months. The principle is yet in the very early stages of development, so it would probably require more time to pick up any relevant large-scale result.

But ABI Research points out another interesting trend: city governments are now waking up to the real possibility of smart urban sensors data monetization. What is this about? It relates to the possibility to leverage data generated by connected devices and applications to design new revenue streams for cities, much needed in the post Covid-19 era.

The background for any data monetization program is the availability of a perfectly safe and accountable urban infrastructure, where data are fully transferrable and assignable (and blockchain technology can be the answer to this).

A platform such as PE Smart Urban Network allows data generated by urban devices to be shared and tokenized, hence transformed in tradeable assets. This means data streams can be easily sold and bought through a secure digital marketplace. Parking-related data can be used for instance to design mobile apps to check free car lots in real time, reserve and pay them via smartphone; live environmental data can be leveraged to monitor the impact of traffic-mitigation measures and dynamically manage restricted traffic zones; and so on. Start ups and local businesses might design and provide applications mashing-up different data to create their own services.

Smart urban sensors are ubiquitous – and cities are learning how to leverage them not only to improve efficiency and sustainability, but also to generate revenues to fund innovation and future growth.


smart adaptive lighting

Connected streetlights? It’s time for smart adaptive lighting

Street lighting accounts on average for 40% of a city’s electricity bill: not surprisingly, it is one of the first services city managers focus on when challenged with budget constraints or sustainability targets.

Up to 80% in power consumption and related costs can be saved by turning streetlights to energy-efficient LED lamps and connecting them to a wireless Internet of Things (IoT) network. With our PE Smart Urban Network platform, cities can transform their lighting infrastructure into a smart, sentient network and enable full remote control of single or grouped luminaires.

PE Smart Urban Network allows to turn on/off and dim single or grouped luminaires from the central management system, and enables the definition of customized outdoor lighting schedules. Operating hours and brightness can be programmed upon daily solar times or ambient light levels, and default combinations can be set for given districts or areas.

What's more? Our platform enables adaptive, sensor-based lighting. By interfacing streetlights with motion sensors or vehicle detection systems, dynamic lighting can be triggered, further reducing consumed power up to 30%. Adaptive lighting patters can be defined, ie. turning lamps on in real time upon vehicle or pedestrian transit, reducing brightness in low-traffic areas or empty roads.

Look at this example: Along a bicycle path, street luminaires can be preset to remain off with daylight and provide light intensity at 40% at night. Thanks to the integrated motion sensor, when the environment light is below the 50 lux threshold and a vehicle is detected, the light level is increased from 40% to 100% for 2 minutes.

smart adaptive lighting

Lighting can dynamically mirror traffic intensity. Light points can be integrated with vehicle traffic counters to track the number of cars passing through in a given timeframe. When a specific threshold is overpassed, an automatic command is sent to set a group of lamps on a pre-defined dimming level.

For example, an IP camera can be configured to count vehicles crossing a couple of lines, resetting counters every 15 minutes and sending the related command to dim lights. Three scenarios are considered: with low traffic condition, dimming level is set to a minimum of 40%; medium traffic raises dimming to 50%, and high traffic to 70%.

smart adaptive lighting

The dimming control can be also based on Lux, rain and environmental sensors measuring wind intensity, temperature, humidity and pressure. Supposing the physical data to be collected every 5 seconds and correlated with related thresholds, a command is sent to LED drivers over the DALI2 bus to adjust lighting levels.

 

Want to learn more about PE Smart Urban Network and adaptive lighting? Watch our webinar and feel free to contact our Smart Lighting experts to have all your questions answered!