Smart Cities and IoT Bring us into Brave New World

This week I went to the SmartCitiesConnect 2017 Conference in Austin. When I later told people about the conference, I was inevitably asked, “What is a smart city?” The answer that I eventually composed is a city that uses data gleaned from Internet-connected sensors and video and converts it to usable information and unprecedented insights for city managers and residents with the help of computer-based analytics.

Streetlights are an integral part of the smart city infrastructure. They also can serve as the location for sensors that gather all kinds of data. The data goes way beyond just lighting usage and energy management.

At the conference, I got to speak with companies that offer smart city services that go far beyond anything I ever thought possible.

Luxeon High Power

I got to speak with representatives from many well-known and emerging companies related to IoT-connected lighting at the conference include Philips Lighting and a lesser known company called Telensa that works with IoT-connected street lights and smart city networks.

Two companies stood out to me that have virtually nothing to do with solid state lighting. I spoke with Santiago Giraldo of CARTO. CARTO specializes in visualizing location-based information known as location intelligence.

Location intelligence underlies most all of IoT and smart city applications. Santiago said in an email,  “There’s nothing more powerful than understanding something from your business or city in the context of everything else around it across time, space, and through deeper context.”

I got to speak with Lynda Chau and Kurtis McBride of Miovision. Miovision is doing amazing things with sensors and digital video cameras that get power over the Ethernet to get data about vehicle traffic.

Their system employs deep learning to recognize patterns from thousands of photos to distinguish between types of vehicles, in all types of weather. It uses this data to reveal traffic flow patterns and make recommendations for reducing traffic tie-ups. While many IoT related improvements provide energy-consumption-related improvements, many of the improvements including those of Miovision enhance the quality of life and safety within the city.

IoT and Smart Cities are at a stage analogous to the time of AOL

Kurtis explained that the state of Smart Cities and IoT by comparing them to the time when AOL was starting out. He said that during the time AOL was starting out, people were amazed by what could be done with the Internet. Today, about twenty years later, AOL would look primitive and I would say quaint in comparison to the Internet today. To take this analogy further, I would point out that even the greatest visionaries of the time were not able to predict what is possible with the Internet today.

I agree with Kurtis that with IoT and Smart Cities, the industry, like the time of AOL, is at just as early a stage in which people are figuring out what is possible. Furthermore, the speed that the technology evolves is so fast that predicting the future is nearly impossible.

This unpredictability also holds partially true for IoT-based lighting and its use in smart cities. I say partially true because the solid state lighting is evolving largely as predicted in terms of performance. However, the IoT-based applications that use sensors positioned in lights are emerging and developing in directions that we cannot anticipate.

It is a brave new world of IoT and Smart Cities. The only surefire way to predict its future is for companies to make it themselves.

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