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What makes a City Smart? IoT Elements and Key Interactions

Guest Author: Shakthi V

In my previous articles in the IoT series, we saw about Security & Privacy and Device Level Security needs; it is time for us to get to the final one in the series where we get to a serious possible area where we can see IoT help us. A recent study found that over the past few years, the definition of “Smart Cities” has evolved to mean many things to many people. Part of being “smart” is utilising information and communications technology and the Internet to address urban challenges. The number of urban residents is growing by nearly 60 million every year. In addition, more than 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. As a result, people occupying just 2 percent of the world’s land will consume about three-quarters of its resources.

Moreover, more than 100 cities of 1 million people will be built in the next decade. This also an area where the current Indian PM is looking to move the nation into. And if implemented clearly, it will be a great thing for the economy and the quality of urban life in our country. Today, let us conclude this series about the IoT with a look at smart cities – one of the major implementations of IoT.


As the diagram above shows, there are three kinds of interactions that are important in a smart city scheme of things, People to People (P2P), People to Machine (P2M) and Machine to Machine (M2M). The processes and protocols make these interactions secure, tight and also maintain data integrity. Please note that we are talking about essential civic services also here. So security and processing overhead should not, at any cost affect the overall turn-around time of any process, the results in that case will be disastrous and counter-productive.

Now let us examine various elements in the eco-system above –

  1. People – People now have various ways of accessing the internet and methods are limited only by imagination and budget. Going forward, we are going to go beyond the humble wearable device and access the internet in very complicated ways that are just fantasy today. For example, we will be able to swallow a pill that diagnoses our entire physical health and reports it to the cloud via the internet where the medical and healthcare system will automatically respond and initiate handling and treatment based on that data. There are going to be many other ways that we are going to constantly pump data into the cloud every second. People will then become the nodes of the internet, complicated, scary but definitely on the way!
  2. Data — With IoT, devices typically gather data and send it over the Internet to a central source, where it is analyzed and processed. Rather than just reporting raw data, connected things will soon send higher-level information back to machines, computers, and people for further evaluation and decision making. This transformation from data to information in IoT is important because it will allow us to make faster, more intelligent decisions, as well as control our environment more effectively.
  3. Things – these along with people form the crux of the IoT and the smart cities. These are a heterogeneous collection of devices that collect and may/may not process data before sending it for further analysis into the cloud. Things will sense more data, become context-aware, and provide more experiential information to help people and machines make more relevant and valuable decisions. They can be permanent things built into structures like bridges for load estimation and strength evaluation or temporary things built into milk or food cartons to track movement and consumption and to update health records
  4. Process – This is a set of rules and regulations that govern the data exchange, security levels and the access grid in the IoT that runs a smart city. Relevant connections and right information coupled with right delivery help a process add value to the network and make the smart city context-aware.

And the key technical aspects that bind all these together are Big Data, Big analytics, Stable connection and clear collaboration. A well thought out infrastructure with all these driving execution is the kay foundation of a smart city.

So what are the key areas that a government can hope to implement the IoT and make a city smart? That is simple, it has to be Structure Management, Traffic Management, Water Management, Power Management, Waste Management and Policing. If we can get these functions optimized and set up with a layer of IoT whereby the sensors or devices talk to a central controller equipped with an intelligent process that makes real-time decisions based on incoming data, we have a Smart City!

Let us now try and see a few examples of how this can actually help a city and hence all of us. It is a known fact that street/road lighting consumes a major percentage of the power that is produced in the world. We also know that roughly 60% of road lighting across the world uses technology invented in the 60s. The LED lighting movement is gaining a lot of traction and the world is switching to efficient lighting solutions based on LEDs. Let us look at an IoT implementation of this.

  1. We take a survey of all the lights in the city roads, replace them with LED lights in phases
  2. Once the lights are all LED, we tie them up to a communication and control grid that has a central processing unit
  3. The Lighting CPU has a set of simple rules like
    1. Dim lights when they come on and gradually increase intensity as evening becomes night
    2. Prioritize lighting to public utility spaces where crowds gather and move around frequently
    3. As night becomes dawn and natural light takes over, dim lights first and progressively switch them off
    4. Covered structures get light till the sun is out and shining
    5. In the event of rain/storm/lightning, ensure that the lights do not short out and if that happens, switch to an available covered array that can illuminate the same area
    6. Use ground sensors to detect footfall and illuminate intensity based on density
    7. Traffic LEDS never go off/unmanned
  4. The policies above are controlled, let us say by something like an XML based protocol that enables different sensors and the lighting grid to talk the same language.
  5. At the same time, the lighting pattern. movement pattern, failure pattern and weather pattern are constantly collected on the cloud for regular analysis and lighting policy feedback
  6. Effectively, the system runs itself and optimizes itself.

The scheme above for “lighting as a service can literally save a quarter of a city’s wasted electricity in road lighting, couple that with LED light energy savings and you will have enough energy to never have a power outage in a city. And if we additionally tie a green and renewable source to power lights, the city has literally infinite lighting capability. Sounds like fantasy? It’s actually possible. Amsterdam is exploring this as we write this article.

There are many such possibilities, imagine city that calls an ambulance when it senses a citizen having a health emergency, or one that alerts the police when a known offender tried to manhandle city property or financial structures. Best is a city than can sense a potential IED, alert ER services, evacuate people and cordon off the area! Like I said, sky is the limit!

With that, I end my third article in the IoT series! Back soon with something exciting! What are your thoughts? Let us know!