February 2018: Realizing the Smart-City Vision

A lack of interoperability is costly, and it’s holding smart cities back from achieving true disruption via IoT and other emerging-tech adoption.

Enterprises, individuals, governments, cities, and other entities have at least one thing in common in today’s connected world: they’re all looking for ways to leverage innovative technologies to improve life and business; but can this really be achieved without interoperability? For municipalities, improving citizen services, public safety, and government transparency, increasing efficiency in transportation, energy, and other key infrastructures, and enhancing access to healthcare are all near the top of the agenda. The IoT (Internet of Things) can facilitate game-changing improvements in each and every one of these arenas. And it already is.

Cities across the United States and across the world are leveraging connected devices and systems to make city services like waste management and streetlighting smarter and more efficient. They’re embedding sensors into critical infrastructure and using the data to make structures safer and more resilient.

They’re deploying high-speed Internet to connect citizens to vital services and attract new businesses to their communities. They’re investing in body-worn devices and other connected solutions to improve first response, and they’re investigating ways to incorporate IoT data into everyday decisionmaking processes.

Take just one societal need—say, access to healthcare—and apply IoT solutions, and the benefits for citizens’ quality of life can be tremendous.

In the case of healthcare, the IoT can ease the burden on the health system by enabling remote patient monitoring and broaden access to care through telemedicine. But if you apply the IoT to several societal needs at the same time as part of an integrated and comprehensive smart city, it becomes something completely different—it becomes a top-to-bottom transformation of the way people live, work, and play.

This isn’t a new vision, per se, but it has proved to be an elusive one. One consistent hurdle for any smart city continues to be interoperability, both in the vertical-to-vertical sense and in the device-to-device and solution-to-solution sense. It’s a thorn in smart-city’s side, but interoperability is central to achieving a transformative, connected city—one that delivers on the promise of efficient city services, top-notch safety and security, and a flourishing economy driven and supported by technological innovation.

Not only does a lack of interoperability hold cities back from the promise of the IoT, it costs them every day in both the monetary and non-monetary senses of the word. From causing service delays to hindering the free flow of data that can enhance decisionmaking, a lack of interoperability is a costly problem, but it’s one industry, government, and academia are actively working together to solve.

“A lack of interoperability in the smart-city supply chain can be devastating, with different departments using different standards and different information models that make it harder to collaborate rather than easier.” –Jesse Berst, Smart Cities Council

Standards: A Work in Progress

Sokwoo Rhee, associate director of the cyber-physical systems program at NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), www.nist.gov, leads the Global City Teams Challenge, which has been fostering efforts to develop smart-city technologies and projects around the world. Rhee concurs that from the perspective of the team projects in NIST’s Global City Teams Challenge, there is still a lot of fragmentation, both in terms of technologies and business cases.

“But at the same time,” he says, “we are seeing the emergence of interesting trends that may help interoperability; for example, convergence around cloud platforms that can harness a broad range of solutions for municipal needs. We also see a number of successful concepts being identified and replicated in multiple cities and communities, which is a good indication that best practices are beginning to emerge.”

To Rhee, it is obvious that the lack of not just interoperability but also replicability causes inefficiencies on all fronts. “Communities cannot leverage each other’s investments and technology providers cannot build products to enjoy economies of scale and a broad marketplace, all of which will lead to higher costs and business delays,” he explains. “Without interoperability and replicability, it is very difficult to nurture a widely adopted ecosystem, which further slows down the pace of innovation. This is a major issue not only for smart cities but also for all IoT applications.”

Rhee says it’s important to identify and incubate replicable and interoperable solutions that are proven to be successful in municipal environments and help other communities adopt them, thereby minimizing tendencies to reinvent the wheel. Industry can help by developing solutions that work on broadly adopted platforms instead of building fragmented or isolated solutions. Rhee says industry can also play a major role in identifying and sharing successful deployments and best practices that work in multiple communities.

Envisioning the Senseable City and the IoT

Sensors will transform life and business in urban centers as more data collection changes human intelligence.

By 2050, around 70% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities, according to the United Nations, www.un.org, and urbanization isn’t the only shift on the horizon for the world’s cities. The IoT (Internet of Things) is increasingly allowing cities to offer the kind of high-quality lifestyle and vibrant economic climate that attracts residents, businesses, and visitors alike. (Is interoperability next? See related story)

Sensors have transformed the way citizens live, work, and play. From smartphones to smart meters and smart streetlights, connected devices are delivering greater conveniences, comforts, and efficiencies. In the industrial sector, too, sensor-enabled automation has the potential to virtually eliminate human error, thereby delivering greater throughput and higher ROI (return on investment), and open doors for predictive maintenance.

Laila Salman, lead application engineer at ANSYS, www.ansys.com, a provider of engineering simulation software, says wireless technologies such as LTE (long-term evolution) and 5G have the potential to improve human life by enabling IoT applications like autonomous vehicles, personalized medicine, and beyond. Importantly, she says sensors can free up people’s time, giving them the chance to focus their attention on activities that require the full power and creativity of the human brain, rather than performing low-level monitoring activities. “Sensors have a fantastic potential to drastically reduce waste by replacing or, more specifically, assisting the human sense,” she says. “Sensors can perform continuous monitoring of what is happening somewhere. … This approach would reduce the waste of resources such as energy but also the most valuable resource: human intelligence and human resource.”

When Samir Saini, former CIO for the City of Atlanta, www.atlantaga.gov, envisions the future of smart cities, he says it’s all about transforming a city from reactive to proactive. “For cities, the perspective is that if cities can deploy sensors that can collect large volumes of data around what it sees, hears, and smells around it, and those sensors can be deployed in high density across the entire city, then the data can be used to move city department services from being largely reactive today to being proactive and predictive,” Saini explains. “If we can sense that there are elevated carbon monoxide levels, we could proactively dispatch a fire truck to the scene of a potential fire. Whereas if we didn’t have the sensor, there would be a fire and it would reach a point where it’s pretty serious, we would wait for a 9-1-1 call and then dispatch the fire truck. The difference there could be minutes (or) seconds, but that could be the difference between life and death.”

Peggy’s Blog

Li-Fi Takes on the IoT

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Are too Few Ready for GDPR?

In this column, let’s continue our evaluation of the GDPR (general data protection regulation), which goes into effect in the European Union in May and its impact on interoperability and connected devices.

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EU Puts Data on Notice

Here’s a rhetorical question: What comes to mind when you think of the word data? Chances are for your business, data means opportunity. As a consumer, data means something much more personal—something you’d like to protect. 

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Meanwhile, government can help by facilitating collaboration between communities and industry, and local governments can work together to tackle common issues shared by multiple municipalities. Industry and government can both assist in the process of interoperability through support of standards organizations.

Shawn Chandler, senior member of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), www.ieee.org, and director at Navigant Consulting, www.navigant.com, says in the past, device manufacturers and service providers have generally preferred to develop their own private interoperability approaches. As a result, he says many ecosystems of smart city products are subject to fierce competition in the industrial, commercial, and retail space.

Smart-city interoperability may not be where it needs to be quite yet, but Chandler sees exceptional opportunity on the horizon. The key is in adopting a capable layer of communications and service interoperability so the advent of new IoT devices from different manufacturers and service providers can create a complex and secure ecosystem of connected endpoints. “In our connected world, it’s more important than ever to develop systems of systems that are interoperable across many layers,” Chandler says, “not just in communications but in common information models and service models as well.”

Realizing the Vision

According to Kaan Ozbay, director of C2SMART (Connected Cities for Smart Mobility toward Accessible and Resilient Transportation), a U.S. Dept. of Transportation, www.dot.gov, designated University Transportation Center, and professor of civil and urban engineering at NYU, www.nyu.edu, there is no smart city without open data. He believes there are some steps that, if taken, could help achieve the interoperability necessary for smart-city adoption and innovation.

For instance, Ozbay says there must be a unified and scalable IT platform that can facilitate data flows from sensors of various types to decision-support systems of various types. He says policies must promote open data-sharing protocols, and data-driven algorithms and decision-support systems must be developed that can help improve city operations. Further, Ozbay says city leaders will play a role in enabling interoperability by keeping the lines of communication open among stakeholders and supporting pilot projects that demonstrate the importance of interoperability among systems.

As an example of how a lack of interoperability in the smart-city supply chain can cost governments and municipalities, Ozbay points to transportation and mobility systems. “Reduced efficiencies of the urban transportation system can cause loss of revenues and opportunities for businesses, commuters, and the government,” he states. “An interoperable system can provide a general framework for predicting demand for not only transportation but also energy, water, and other services. This type of realtime data-driven system can improve the supply of these various demands and thus reduce costs and improve efficiencies.”

Because closed, proprietary systems will not be flexible in the long run—and because smart-city systems are still in their infancy and therefore impossible to predict—Ozbay says an open and non-proprietary system design is extremely important. Academia can contribute to making this vision a reality by helping to define the meaning of interoperability as far as city players are concerned. Ozbay says academia can also develop new theories and application tools to achieve interoperability through the establishment of guidelines and standards, educate city leaders about the importance and achievability of interoperability, and facilitate an ecosystem of stakeholders working together on smart-city connectivity and interoperability.

To attract stakeholders to the idea of working together toward the common goal of interoperability, it’ll remain important to emphasize the advantage of fully connected and interoperable systems. In fact, IHS Markit’s Watson says in the pursuit of smart-city interoperability, the human element will remain critical. For instance, in order to achieve the vision of an integrated smart city, politicians and city officials must share an ambition to create smarter cities. Vendors will need to believe that the long-term vision of smart-city interoperability will provide growth opportunities for their businesses, and adopters and end users will need to “vote with their wallets,” supporting standards-based solutions that contribute to a standardized ecosystem rather than a fragmented one.

Along the way, it’ll be important to continue to talk about the opportunities that will arise from enhanced connectivity and interoperability in the smart-city ecosystem, such as more informed, happier citizens, more efficient usage of energy, and better remote access to critical information for first responders. Just about everyone within the smart-city ecosystem is looking for ways to leverage the IoT to make cities more livable, workable, and/or sustainable, but without interoperability, the vision will remain a mirage, a mere vision of what could be.

Artificial Intelligence, Big Data Talk

Peggy is joined by Joe Lillie, member, IEEE at CES 2018, to talk about the future of connectivity, artificial intelligence, connected cars, and the importance of standards bodies. He explains that the communications link is a big piece because you can only put so much data on a chip. Data storage becomes critical as well, he explains.

Case Study

Connected Urban Transport Solution
Helps Dallas ‘Work Smarter’

The adage “work smarter not harder” applies to cities looking for ways to improve efficiencies, enhance public safety, boost livability, and support economic growth by adopting IoT (Internet of Things) solutions. For the City of Dallas, city managers saw that the road ahead—the road to becoming a smart city—included an intentional focus on making data actionable. The city’s vision for its transportation system centered on this idea that data should not only be available, but that it should also enhance decisionmaking, ultimately helping to ease traffic congestion in the greater Dallas area.

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