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Exciting Developments in Smart Cities

Increasingly, infrastructure and construction projects are using innovative digital technology to improve long-term asset management. Here we examine some of the emerging technologies and trends leading the "Smart Cities" revolution.

In a recent article by Ars Technica, the Smart Cities movement was defined as the search for ways in which technology can be used to improve services for residents and make their lives better. It is the process of employing data-driven technological solutions to solve everyday challenges for urban dwellers. Increasingly, Smart Cities are incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning along with the Internet of Things and other connected devices in order to more expertly deliver beneficial services to city residents.

Some of the most interesting developments involve using tech advancements to locate gunshots, detect cracks in building facades, and dispatching work crews to fix streetlights. Installing networks of sensors that can monitor and manage the performance of assets is one way that urban areas are becoming more more efficient. For example, embedding sensors into infrastructure like bridges, tunnels, roads, and utilities. This endows these important assets with the capability to sense and even respond to problems in realtime.

This means that infrastructure can, in a sense, direct its own maintenance, which leads to a reduction in maintenance downtimes and provides much greater opportunity for operational efficiency. In this way, sensors monitor the physical structure of assets as well as the services that run through them, such as electricity, water, and gas.

Here are 5 key areas of urban infrastructure that benefit from smart technology:


1. Detecting Damage in Concrete with Intelligent Paint

“Sensing Skin” technology was developed by a team of researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of Eastern Finland. This electrically conductive paint is applied over electrodes that are embedded in concrete around the perimeter of structures.

Dr. Mohammad Pour-Ghaz, an assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper described the technology as having a wide-range of applications for a variety of structure types, "but the impetus for the work was to help ensure the integrity of critical infrastructure such as nuclear waste storage facilities.”

Essentially, this innovative "sensing skin" has the ability to monitor defects in concrete structures. In the future, a smart “sensing skin” for concrete could be implemented and used as an early warning system that would identify deficiencies in vital systems of infrastructure such as nuclear power plants and bridges.

Pour-Ghaz explains that the conductivity distribution of the skin is similar "to x-ray imaging, but instead of x-ray we use a very small electric current, in the order of a few micro to milliamps. When the cracks happen, the conductivity goes to zero and we can capture them. The method is called electrical impedance tomography (EIT).”

A computer monitors the conductivity of the skin, which senses when small currents pass through pairs of electrodes, cycling through a number of possible electrode combinations. Any decrease in conductivity indicates that the structure has been cracked or damaged.

Researches envision the paint being applied to new or existing structures and incorporating any number of conductive materials. A set of algorithms have been developed to identify damage and to determine where it has occurred.

“The idea is to identify problems quickly so that they can be addressed before they become big problems and–in the case of some critical infrastructure–so that public safety measures can be implemented,” Pour-Ghaz stated.


2. Painless Parking with GPS Data and Sensors

Cities can now employ smart parking systems to make the process of locating parking places more efficient. With the implementation of sensors that are embedded into the ground below parking spots and the use of GPS data from drivers’ smartphones and, cities can quickly develop a system that uses pattern recognition to determine when spots are typically available. This data can be deployed to city residents in real-time in the form of parking maps.

Mobile applications on smartphones or installed in connected car systems can send notifications to drivers to let them know that they are near an open parking spot. For example, StateTech has reported that Los Angeles installed smart parking technology, which allows drivers to check a mobile app, website, or call 511 to get real-time data on the availability and the cost of parking spaces along a 4.5-mile stretch of the downtown area.

"To detect whether spaces are open or occupied, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation embedded wireless sensors on 6,300 parking spaces and in some city-owned parking lots. The parking management software tabulates occupancy data and parking meter transaction data, then automatically analyzes the information, alerting transportation officials and allowing them to charge different prices based on demand, location and time of day."


3. Safer Cities with Intelligent Gunshot Detection

The ShotSpotter system is currently used in cities such as New York and Washington, DC. It employs a network of strategically placed microphones to listen for gunshots. When the microphones detect a sound that matches the sound of a gunshot, the system identifies the location and deploys the recording and associated data to an operator who determines whether the sound was a gunshot.

The ShotSpotter's sensors report the latitude, longitude, and altitude of the shot within 60 seconds of detecting the sounds. In addition, the system can identify the number of shots as well as the direction and speed of the bullet.

In the NYC implementation of ShotSpotter, data and insights about confirmed shots fired is merged with the city's address database, surveillance video, and shooting histories for the location, along with names and pictures of anyone with open warrants at the address, as well as any gun permits issued in the vicinity. This means that police officers responding to the call are full prepped with all of this data already loaded on their computers or tablets by the time they arrive on the scene.


4. Better Energy Efficiency with Smart Streetlights

Streetlights are essential in urban zones and smart tech upgrades to this critical area of infrastructure can help make cities safer while also saving money. Older streetlights can be made new with LED bulbs, wireless connections, and motion sensors that flick the lights on when they are activated by passing pedestrians. In addition IoT sensors can alert city officials of when and where bulbs need to be changed.

More than saving city agencies money through electricity costs, these solutions make the streets safer and more environmentally sustainable. This past summer, the city of Chicago reported that after only one year into their four-year streetlight modernization program, it had installed more than 76,000 LED streetlights on the south and west sides. The city expects to cut electricity costs in half with the replacement of old bulbs to newer more energy-efficient LED ones. Officials estimate a savings of approximately $100 million over 10 years.

Further, it has been reported that LA equipped 80 percent of its streetlight stock with LEDs and 4G wireless connectivity in past few years. In the first year of its new lighting program, LA reported that it saw a 63 percent saving on its energy bill. In addition, the 4G-wireless-connected poles are being employed to improve resident cell services.


5. Power Generating Tiles Embedded in Sidewalks

One of the most exciting developments in the Smart City tech is the concept of smart sidewalks by the company PaveGen. These IoT-connected tiles are embedded into pavement and can collect data about foot traffic patterns and have the ability to capture and convert kinetic energy from footsteps into electricity.

Pavement tiles were laid at London's West Ham Underground station for the 2012 Olympic Games. And in April 2013, a demo installation was employed to harvest energy from runners during the Paris Marathon. These tiles have also been installed on a public soccer field in Rio de Janeiro to power overhead lights, which allow players to continue practising after sunset.



All these innovations underline the principle that data is the most fundamental ingredient of digital transformation. The technologies predicted to make big waves in the coming year – including IoT, artificial intelligence, blockchain and edge – are all methods of collecting, analyzing, and storing information.

At Intellis, we keep a watchful eye on technological developments that have the potential to transform the Facilities Management Industry. One area that we are continually excited about is Smart Cities. The Smart Cities ideal is to leverage data to maintain the built environment more efficiently.

Since our founding in 1996, it has been our mission to incorporate the latest tech advancements with our enterprise solutions, such as FOUNDATION, so that we can provide our clients with the best software solutions that will ensure healthy building and infrastructure operations while also reducing costs, improving productivity, and boosting sustainability.

Our history is rooted in developing and implementing innovative systems of data collection that aim to transform data into actionable insights to help facilities executives maintain the physical assets in their care and improve the built environment for the future.

Ready to learn more?



Sources and Further Reading

Construction Manager Magazine, "Groundworks and Infrastructure Get Smart," http://www.constructionmanagermagazine.com/onsite/groundworks-infrastructure-infrastructure-gets-sma/.

Donati, Angelica Krystle, "This is How IoT Underpins the Intelligent Built Environment," Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/angelicakrystledonati/2018/12/03/this-is-how-iot-underpins-the-intelligent-built-environment/#1c478a9c4d95.

Goldstein, Phil, "The 7 Things That Become ‘Smart’ in a Smart City," State Tech Magazine, https://statetechmagazine.com/article/2018/11/7-things-become-smart-smart-city.

Hallaji Milad, Aku Seppänen and Mohammad Pour-Ghaz, "Electrical Impedance Tomography-Based Sensing Skin for Quantitative Imaging of Damage in Concrete," Department of Civil Construction and Environmental Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC and Department of Applied Physics, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland, http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0964-1726/23/8/085001.

Marr, Bernard, "The Internet of Things Will Be Massive," Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/01/04/the-internet-of-things-iot-will-be-massive-in-2018-here-are-the-4-predictions-from-ibm/#4f6029e7edd3.

Morales, Alex, "Paris Marathon to Harvest Runners’ Energy With Pavegen Tiles," Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-04-04/paris-marathon-to-harvest-runners-energy-with-pavegen-tiles.

Peters, Adele, "The Lights On This Soccer Field Are Powered As Players Run," Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany.com/3036602/the-lights-on-this-soccer-field-are-powered-by-footsteps-as-kids-play.

Rosenbaum, Dan, "All hail the AI Overlord: Smart Cities and the AI Internet of Things," Ars Technica, https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2018/12/unite-day3-1/.

Shipman, Matt, "Sensing Skin Quickly Detects Cracks, Damage in Concrete Structures," North Carolina State News, https://news.ncsu.edu/2014/06/pour-ghaz-skin-2014.