The data's ready, but where are the smart cities?

The data's ready, but where are the smart cities?

Tom Weiss, Fri 24 May 2019

Smart cities are starting to come of age thanks to the combination of the technical development of the Internet-of-things (IoT) sensors and the building out of higher-speed mobile networks. City planners are using the data produced by smart cities to pioneer the way they run core municipal services, including waste management and water; running schools and hospitals more efficiently, and reducing costs and wastage in service provision.

And just as cars and transport play a vital role in any city, so connected vehicles are a critical element to any smart city. The dream of the self-driving, autonomous car is coming but what will come first (and has started to arrive) is mass connectivity across vehicle fleets, where cars generate and share data with multiple other applications.

There are lots of compelling use cases for the data generated by connected cars, around fleet management; insurance provision; infotainment, and so on. But we think smart cities bring an entirely different dimension to the way we will use this data. There are a couple of reasons for this, one technically and societal. It's clear now that the big winners from connected (and autonomous) vehicles will not just be the companies that build and operate these vehicles or the services associated with them, but those that take advantage of the profound changes they will have on our urban landscapes. Connected and autonomous cars will reinvent the way our towns and cities are laid out in ways we can't even imagine yet. Their impact will be far more significant than the addition of Netflix in your car.

The other difference, more prosaic than the remaking of urban landscapes but still significant, is technology. Today, when we talk about the data connected cars generate, we are often talking about vehicles generating data delivered to the cloud and used to understand traffic flows or help to plan out new transit routes, or to understand more about how people drive in certain conditions. This is a classic device/server model that we see in multiple other industries. But what we see with the emergence of smart cities is more use of device to device technology - e.g. connected cars passing data between one another, and a whole raft of use cases developing around this.

Vehicle to vehicle communication

These technologies, known as vehicle to vehicle communication, are designed to allow automobiles to talk to each other, using wireless ad hoc networks. These technologies are increasingly standardized – in the US, it is called the Wireless Access in Vehicular Environments (WAVE).

WAVE and similar technologies are being used to power some of the most exciting smart city technologies. Truckers are starting to use it to work together to, as cyclists do, ride in convoy to reduce drag and fuel use. Multiple cities are using V2V to use vehicles to power mesh wifi networks.

We think this technology will change some of the most fundamental parts of our cityscapes. Take smart traffic lights that don't keep people waiting on red when no cars are coming where the light is green. And parking, where the connected vehicle communicates with a car parking system and can tell the driver where a space can be found, thus reducing both the congestion and the pollution caused by frustrated drivers unable to find car parking spaces.

When connected cars speak to each other, this can help lower the number of overall accidents which, among other issues, tend to create enormous traffic delays. With autonomous vehicles, the flow of traffic will improve still further. When cars driven by humans pull away from a traffic light, there is always a delay as everyone has to notice the light has gone green and then get into gear and move off. Cars communicating with each other will do this more efficiently, allowing all the vehicles in the queue to continue their journeys much more swiftly and smoothly.

In practice, connected cars can talk to each other, to pavement and road markings and signs, some obligatory, such as speed limit signs, traffic light, stop or yield signs or road markings where a car is say prohibited from remaining stationary. This communication can only be useful when the massive amounts of data the connected cars generate are processed and analyzed in real-time. Because the typical things connected cars do in smart cities are in real-time, speed is of the essence. If the car parking space has been taken by another car by the time yours arrives, and this then happens five further times, the "help" the smart city is offering the connected car would be worse than no help at all. As cars become autonomous this need for rapid automated, decision-making in real-time will become even more critical. If a driverless car fails to react to a stop sign or to a person in danger of being hit, then death could occur, which, as we have already seen, could have a catastrophic effect on the public's trust in these vehicles.. We have already spoken about how Dativa believes edge computing will provide the solution to allow this to happen.

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Dativa is a global consulting firm providing data consulting and engineering services to companies that want to build and implement strategies to put data to work. We work with primary data generators, businesses harvesting their own internal data, data-centric service providers, data brokers, agencies, media buyers and media sellers.

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