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!


ethics and inclusion

The future of Smart Cities is about ethics and inclusion

Same as living bodies, cities are born, grow and in some case die out. Interviewed by the Italian magazine Corriere Innovazione, Professor Richard Florida from the School of Cities of the University of Toronto explained most urban transformation processes resemble natural lifecycles and allow cities to resist disruptive crisis such as Covid-19.

The debate around decentralized cities or the 15-minutes cities confirm the pandemic is not pushing people away from urban areas, rather inciting a different way of experiencing and living them.

«I’m thinking of people-friendly districts and community-friendly spaces. A city should be much more than a place: it should be distributed and inclusive, providing museums, cultural centers, music halls, theatres, and more. This is the way to ignite relations and activities, reconnecting people», said Professor Florida.

Over the past five years, the Smart Cities wave has abandoned the initial tech-centered approach and focused more on the needs of residents and local communities. While acknowledging smart technologies can make public services more efficient and sustainable, current and future city projects are increasingly aimed at enhancing the quality of life and pursuing citizens’ happiness.

As reported by Smart Cities Dive after surveying leaders from 15 major U.S. cities, the future is about ethical and open communities, where technology plays a role by supporting data-driven decisions for inclusion and effective stakeholders’ engagement.

The expected evolution includes protecting residents' digital rights and breaking down any racial and digital inequity. The pandemic created a sense of urgency around the need to close the digital divide, highlighting connectivity is a critical public infrastructure and access should be granted to anyone, same as power, running water, healthcare, or education.

But city leaders are very aware that digital equality and a stronger community engagement is also a matter of trust and transparency. Some people fear smart investments serve only the affluent and fail to safeguard their data and privacy, potentially resulting in even more divisiveness and inequality. Cities that make ethics and inclusion a cornerstone of their governance need to build long-term trust with their communities to ultimately realize the full potential of Smart City initiatives.


digital twins

Digital Twins are gaining traction among Smart Cities

We usually think of digital twins in the Industry 4.0 frame. Basically, they are digital representations of a physical objects, which are outfitted with various sensors related to relevant features or areas of functionality. Sensors allow to collect data such as energy output, temperature, operating conditions, and more. These pieces of information are applied to the digital copy to run simulations, analyze performance issues, and define possible solutions, all with the goal of generating valuable insights to improve the original physical object.

While digital twins are somehow mature in the smart manufacturing world, they are increasingly used to replicate entire buildings, cities, and even larger areas. Latvia has recently launched an initiative to develop a digital replica of the Baltic Sea to mitigate the impact of climate change. Among the most polluted marine environments in the world, the Baltic Sea urgently needs to be regenerated, so its digital twin will provide a simulated environment to model human activities and look for innovations to fight negative side effects.

Cities are mostly using digital twins to reduce their environmental footprint and direct sustainability investments. According to ABI Research, cities are expected to save $280 billion by 2030 for more efficient urban planning via digital twins.

In the US, an interesting experience is being made by the City of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Partnering with researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the city succeeded in building a virtual model by integrating data from 500 different sources, including traffic cameras, radar detectors, weather stations, and emergency services. The digital twin enabled traffic congestion experiments – for instance, researchers found that more than 90% of cars got stopped by red lights during the midday rush on Shallowford Road and they decided to recompute the timing for traffic signals. As reported by Smart Cities Dive, signaling patterns are now changed every four minutes based on traffic conditions, and this improved traffic flows up to 30%, also resulting in greater energy efficiency.

The City of Las Vegas set up a virtual replica of buildings, transportation systems, and downtown infrastructure. Leveraging IoT sensors and a 5G network, the city aims at using the digital twin to improve mobility, air quality, noise pollution, water management, and emissions from major buildings. The initiative may ultimately encompass the larger Valley area and become more sophisticated over time thanks to machine learning-based permissions model.

Digital twins are rapidly becoming vital to how cities are run. Now in Las Vegas we will have a city-scale digital twin that is driven by the physical environment, and ultimately letting us control key systems through it,” said Michael Sherwood, CIO at Las Vegas to Cities Today. “The bottom line is that digital twins are going to be the future of how cities are managed and how they’re operated.”


decentralised cities

Bringing smart lighting to decentralised cities and rural areas

In 2020, over 56 percent of the world’s population was urban, and the United Nations estimated that urbanisation could reach 68 percent by 2050. However, the Covid-19 pandemic may curb this trend, as the rise of remote working may encourage more people to leave cities in search of a different way of life.

The future may be about decentralised cities, making the traditional metropolis model evolve towards polycentric, multi-nodal conglomerates. This would create a “new normal” for urban density — and push urban IoT infrastructures to change accordingly.

What does this mean for Smart Lighting? The standard case for street lighting is about city centres or densely clustered areas, where it is generally simple and cost-effective to upgrade existing lamps to LED and design a mesh IoT network. Once connected, smart luminaires can be monitored and managed from a centralised software system, while some gateways act as border routers, network coordinators, and data concentrators. Under normal operating conditions, a single gateway can manage up to 400 connected streetlights.

If considering decentralised cities or rural areas, the scenario may be completely different. Think of suburbs and countryside villages in Europe or the US, for instance. Due to the low population density, we may have dispersed groups of a few streetlights, or even single isolated lamps. This makes it difficult and expensive to reach them, as more gateways would be needed to reliably connect them to the mesh network.

Installing more gateways to connect hard to reach streetlights increases complexity and generates additional costs, as average costs per light point soar. What if we had a different lighting device serving both as a node and a gateway? May it connect single or isolated group of lamps to the existing IoT infrastructure?

Paradox Engineering’s new smart hybrid node is expected to hit the market during 2022. Read more on Cities Today!


Recycling on-the-go

Recycling on-the-go lacks infrastructure

Recycling rates for municipal waste, packaging waste, electrical and electronic equipment are slowly increasing in most Western countries, indicating some progress towards using more waste as a resource and achieving a circular economy. However, while people are committed to separate waste at home, there is a lot to do to improve recycling on-the-go.

A survey performed in 14 European countries by the LUCID polling agency with Every Can Counts revealed that most respondents (93%) would like to see more recycling bins on the streets, in public spaces, parks, beaches, or on trails. That number inches up to 94% when people were asked about large events such as festivals or sporting events.

The lack of adequate infrastructure comes out as a chief obstacle to higher recycling on-the-go rates. 83% of respondents said they always or often put their drinks packaging in the recycling bin when at home, but that number plummets to 54% in the workplace, and only 49% do so when out and about, while 48% recycle in outdoor locations like parks and beaches.

“Most respondents are ready to do more when it comes to sorting and recycling the drink cans they consume out of home, but proper recycling and collection solutions are often too scarce,” explained Every Can Counts Europe Director, David Van Heuverswyn.

On-the-go waste is carefully monitored in the UK, where about eight billion drinks containers fail to get recycled every year and are either landfilled, incinerated, or littered. A few weeks ago, Telford and Wrekin municipalities in Shropshire joined #InTheLoop, the UK’s biggest collaborative approach to boost recycling on-the-go.

First trialed in Leeds in 2018, it was piloted in Swansea and Edinburgh in 2019. Across the three projects, over 1 million plastic and glass bottles and cans were collected and recycled. In Telford and Wrekin, 25 new waste bins will be positioned strategically across the town park to encourage visitors to recycle on-the-go, providing specific guidance for correct separation.

Telford and Wrekin Council will be monitoring the impact and effectiveness of the new bins. If successful, the plan is to extend the rollout across the borough, starting with Oakengates and Newport with others to follow, making it easier for residents to recycle on-the-go in other district parks and high streets.

Does your city have recycling bins on the streets and in public spaces? Any experience or best practice of recycling on-the-go that you want to share? Contact our Smart Waste experts for further insights and ideas!


World Cities Day

World Cities Day 2021: time to act for climate resiliency

October 31st is not only about Halloween, pumpkins, witches, and ghosts. It’s World Cities Day, the United Nations’ initiative to promote the international community's interest in global urbanization and push forward cooperation to address the emerging challenges of sustainable urban development. This ties in with Sustainable Development Goal 11 (“make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”) and this year celebrations match the opening of the 26th UN Climate Change conference, also known as COP26, in Glasgow.

The theme for World Cities Day 2021 is Adapting Cities for Climate Resilience, reflecting the fact that climate change is highly impacting urban settlements, with hundreds of millions of people experiencing floods, rising sea levels, storms and increasing periods of extreme temperatures. Many cities are investing to improve their resiliency, but the lack of funding, capacity, and sometimes vision are threatening efforts to achieve notable results.

“The least well off in cities and communities will bear the brunt of climate change in the form of floods, droughts, landslides, extreme heat, storms and hurricanes. There are more than one billion people living in informal settlements with 70% of them highly vulnerable to climate change,” said UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif while presenting World Cities Day 2021. “We urgently need investment in climate resilience and innovative solutions”.

Adapting cities for climate resilience is paramount to mitigate risks posed by both predictable and unpredictable shocks and stresses. Among the strategies for climate-smart cities, UN-Habitat recommends to invest in climate-proof, more sustainable infrastructure, safeguarding access to basic urban services. As the world is urbanizing at a rapid pace and the frequency and intensity of natural disasters is projected to increase further in the coming decades, today’s infrastructure investment and development will determine how cities and people will be able to cope with future challenges.

This means a collective effort to reshape urban models (think of the “15-minute city” planning concept), design and implement resilient infrastructures, leverage smart technologies to increase efficiency, save key natural resources, reduce CO2 emissions, and grant access to urban services both in standard and crisis times.

The Internet of Things is the way to go to build climate-smart urban infrastructures and enable a data-driven management of urban services: want to learn more about this? Download our free white paperThe open road: A Smart City is an interoperable City‘ and ask Paradox Engineering’s experts how to start a smart journey in your city!


climate change

There is no Planet B, let’s address climate change

Among the top news of this week there are Professors Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann, and Giorgio Parisi winning the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work about the Earth's changing climate. Manabe and Hasselmann laid the foundation of our knowledge of climate and how humanity influences it, reliably predicting global warming. Parisi is rewarded for his revolutionary contributions to the theory of disordered materials and random processes, discovering the "hidden rules" behind climate changes.

Keeping climate up in the agenda is more necessary than ever. We are all confronted with extreme weather and related natural disasters, but this might just be the tip of the iceberg. In a recent Radio Davos podcast by World Economic Forum, scenario planner and futurist Peter Schwartz described the three most plausible scenarios we might face in the near future.

The worst-case scenario deals with the acceleration of climate changes and our inability to mitigate them. We would see rising average temperatures, more frequent and serious extreme weather, an irreversible impact on ecosystems and biodiversity. This is actually a catastrophic scenario.

If managing to mitigate global warming, the second scenario would open a window of hope. We would reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions of human industry and society, have a little less climb in average temperatures, slow side effects down. This is an adaptability scenario, where we would still have significant climate change in effect, but we would make.it.

Is a best-case scenario possible? Yes. According to Schwartz, we might succeed in going negative on greenhouse gases and radically cut the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, while committing to the reforestation of the planet and sustainable development programs. In the long term, we would have the Earth back on a much more climate-friendly trajectory.

Walking the talk for this third scenario requires drastic, permanent measures at all levels, from governments to private companies, up to every single Earth inhabitant. It’s about energy production and the stop of fossil fuels, the conservation of natural resources, the smarter management of waste, the implementation of circular economy models, and more.

Cities have a huge role too, since they cover 3% of the Earth's surface, but consume 78% of the world's energy and produce more than 60% of GHG emissions. “We're going to move toward much more walk-friendly cities […] We're redesigning how we live to be much, much more environmentally benign,” said Peter Schwartz.

Advocating smart technologies for sustainable, climate-resilient Cities, Paradox Engineering signed the open letter to COP26 leaders promoted by Smart Cities World: Cities must be involved in any climate agreement!

 

Pledge your support and spotlight the critical role cities will play in delivering a sustainable future: sign the open letter today and make your voice heard!


video surveillance

Cities need smarter video surveillance

About one third of the population living in OECD countries feels unsafe walking alone at night. Public safety is a growing area of concern in many cities around the world.

Of course, the level of concern varies between regions and countries, sometimes even between cities within the same country. Japan, Singapore, Australia, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Canada normally rank high in city safety indexes, while Latin America, Africa and the Middle East have a relatively high number of less safe cities.

A wide range of security technologies is available for cities to support law enforcement and some of them – such as analogue video surveillance systems – have been around for decades. According to Berg Insight, the global market for city surveillance equipment reached € 9.9 billion in 2020 and should grow with a CAGR of 19.7 percent to reach 24.2 billion in 2025, including both hardware and software systems.

China, the US and the UK have led the adoption of fixed video surveillance systems, with China alone having more than 200 million cameras installed. The newest generations of these devices can be integrated in urban IoT infrastructures to be managed and controlled along with other smart, connected devices. Advancements in video analytics and the injection of Artificial Intelligence have furthermore enhanced surveillance operations.

A promising technological evolution is about mobile and audio surveillance. Body-worn and in-vehicle cameras for law enforcement agencies are emerging as valuable complements to existing video surveillance infrastructure. Wearable devices allow law enforcement personnel to capture video and audio materials to improve live operations, at the same time documenting possible police misconduct for public accountability purposes. The use of body-worn cameras is growing significantly, with the US and the UK again leading the adoption together with China, Australia, France, and Germany.

New IoT applications include gunshot detection sensors. This is not a brand new technology (military applications are mature), but their use for wide-area surveillance in urban environments is fairly recent. Gunshot detection systems are now being piloted in a number of cities – primarily in North America – and industry analysts expect them to become attractive in regions where crime rates remain worrisome.

While cities need smarter ways to ensure public safety, video surveillance is not exempt from criticism. Applications that require facial recognition, even when used for surveillance purposes only, are often viewed as a violation of personal privacy and sometimes opposed by citizens.

In Barcelona, Spain, the city council developed a camera-based solution to action crowd control measures and help tackle Covid-19, but it was forced to anonymize images to protect the privacy of people in public spaces. Back in 2019, several US cities including San Francisco and Oakland banned facial recognition technology and a strong civil rights activist movement is currently pushing for a strict regulation of digital surveillance in several states.

While the privacy dilemma will need to be solved, it is clear that video surveillance technologies offer great benefits to cities and people. In the near future, we will most probably see a more effective use of these systems and a smoother integration with other urban applications for traffic monitoring, fire detection, emergency response, and more.


light pollution

Switch off streetlamps to fight light pollution

Paris is acknowledged to have installed the world’s first electric streetlights back in 1878. Three years later, 4,000 electric lamps were in use in the French capital and gas lanterns were gradually abandoned. Today, there are about 326 million streetlights all over the world, and this should grow to over 361 million by 2030. About a quarter of all streetlights globally have already been converted to LEDs and over 10 million have been connected to smart networks.

If we sum streetlights to lights beaming from homes, skyscrapers, shops, office buildings, and billboards, it is easy to understand our cities are over illuminated. Light pollution – which scientists define as the alteration of night natural lighting levels caused by anthropogenic sources of light – affects more than 80% of the world and more than 99% of the U.S. and European populations. The Milky Way is hidden for more than one-third of humanity, including 60% of Europeans and nearly 80% of North Americans.

Authoritative bodies such as the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) are vocal in asking for urgent intervention to reduce the skyglow, the brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas. Many cities are discussing possible measures: in the US, the City of Pittsburgh presented a “Dark Sky Lighting” ordinance to introduce strict criteria for all newly constructed and renovated facilities and parks, and a mandate for all streetlights to utilize Dark Sky-compliant fixtures. The ordinance should be discussed later this month and might serve as a model for other municipalities looking to effectively reduce light pollution.

Light pollution has a remarkable financial and environmental impact. IDA estimates a third of all outdoor lighting in the US is wasted, costing facility owners some 3.3 billion USD annually and releasing 21 million tons of carbon emissions annually. But the widespread use of artificial light is also proven to interfere with people’s mental and physical health, as well as with wildlife and the natural habitats of plants.

The immediate solution we might think of – let’s turn out every light at night – is not such viable. Modern life requires lighting, specifically night street lighting is essential to make road mobility secure and improve public safety. In 2018, the New York City Crime Lab investigated some 80 public housing developments for a period of six months, measuring the effects of the introduction of new streetlights in around half of them. The study found that index crimes decreased by 7%, while night crimes dropped about 39%.

So, the real challenge is to responsibly and intelligently manage outdoor lighting to reduce pollution without jeopardizing quality of service. As reported by BBC, Tucson, Arizona, converted nearly 20,000 sodium street lights to dimmable, energy efficient LED lamps. Light pollution due to streetlights reduced from 18% to 13%. Since 2018 the city has cut its total light emissions by 7% and its annual energy bills by 2 million USD. Additional measures are being implemented to switch off advertising billboards, floodlights, buildings, and sports stadiums.

PE Smart Urban Network is our performing and reliable IoT platform for Smart Lighting: it allows to connect and control districts, streets, and even single lamps from a central management system, turning lights on/off and dimming them according to programmed schedules, environmental conditions or on demand.

Thanks to PE Smart Urban Network, cities can mitigate light pollution and save up to 80% of power and greenhouse emissions: learn more about our solution and join our community to access white papers, brochures, videos, and other insightful resources.