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As Smart Cities Grow, Data Consolidation Efforts Should Too

The growing laundry list of connected devices and vehicles continue to make the case for platforms that pull all of the data into one easily accessible system. Two projects are doing just that in Georgia and South Dakota.

Whether cities are managing a crisis, or just trying to get the buses running on schedule, bringing various data streams under one umbrella can lead to easier management and broader insights.

This approach has been taken by small cities as varied as Sioux Falls, S.D., and Peachtree Corners, Ga., where IT departments are using technology to set up platforms that use data streams to sharpen a view into city operations and how smart city systems can operate in concert.

“Cities’ data is very siloed. So if you were looking at this, just from a general smart city perspective, the lighting vendor doesn’t talk to the parking vendor, who doesn’t talk to the water vendor, who doesn’t talk to weather management. And imagine if you put all those assets and data together to drive very valuable insights,” said Aaron Simkin, vice president of strategic partnerships and alliances at Quantela, a maker of smart city technology.

A new platform from Quantela brings a number of data points into one place as Sioux Falls navigates the COVID-19 crisis. Known as the Coronavirus Emergency Response Platform (CoVER), a crisis management, cloud-based system, aggregates data from a number of different sources, and aims to “take all the data that cities have, and put it on one platform where you can easily overlay that on a map,” said Simkin.

“So for example, by overlaying all your COVID-related data on a map, instead of saying, ‘we had 500 cases today,’ [you can say] ‘we had 500 cases that were primarily in this area or that area.’ And in doing so, you can now really start to create zones,” he added, explaining the city could ultimately be parceled out as high-risk zones or low-risk zones.

This same concept of overlaying data onto a single platform for analysis can be applied to any number of smart city efforts, said Simkin.

“Now that cities are implementing a ton of IoT infrastructure, what’s happening is you have now several different sensors, and they all their own applications. So how do you manage that? By the time you’re finished with your IoT infrastructure, you could have 100 different applications, and so we bring all that onto a single platform,” said Simkin. 

Meanwhile, Peachtree Corners, a suburb of 45,000 about 20 minutes north of Atlanta, is also using a Web platform to accomplish much the same thing. The city recently formed a partnership with IPgallery to deploy an artificial intelligence-based smart city management platform.

“What I think most cities struggle with is, you see all these data points in all of these different software programs — I’ve got nine different vendors, so that’s nine different software programs that I have to log into — and so pulling that data feed in from the different sources, getting it to all work together… It soon became clear the need to culminate all these devices into a single panel, and that way you could visualize everything,” explained Brandon Branham, chief technology officer and assistant city manager in Peachtree Corners.

“You start getting these feeds in, and it allows you to start making decisions based on the holistic standpoint, not just a single data set spot,” he added.

Peachtree Corners is home to the Curiosity Lab, a 5G-enabled lab for testing and deploying smart city infrastructure and next-generation transportation. The city-owned facility includes a 1.5-mile test track for autonomous vehicle technology, set within a 500-acre office park. The facility is currently home to the deployment and testing of about 100 remote-operated e-scooters, which can be guided to various locations from an offsite operator.

The lab has the dual benefit of bringing economic development to the city, as well as “evaluating these companies, what they develop, their product, and demonstrating their product,” said Branham. “We get to see it act and react in an environment, not in a closed course or campus.”

So, for example, transit vehicle tracking can be integrated into traffic management tracking, and the location and movement of scooters, all from one vantage point.

“Pretty quickly, out of the initial input from the bus schedule, the bus routes, we get a live feed from our transit system, and then we also have the tele-operated e-scooter program going on… we can find out, is the bus running on time? Is it behind schedule? Is it not? And then we can take that [information] and push it to our scooter vendor,” said Branham.

That data allows the scooter operator to coordinate its devices with transit stops so that the scooters can meet the bus in a seamless overlap where various transportation modes flow from one to the other. 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.