Montgomery, Ala., Installs Smart Tech on Garbage Trucks

Alabama’s capital city has entered into a three-year agreement after a six-month pilot that saw roughly 80 garbage trucks there outfitted with the RUBICONSmartCity platform to better manage routes and maintenance.

by / August 5, 2019

Dozens of garbage collection trucks in Montgomery, Ala., have been outfitted with new smart city tech aimed at helping the city do a better job managing routes and maintenance. 

Some 80 garbage trucks have been outfitted with the RUBICONSmartCity platform after Montgomery entered into a three-year agreement with the technology provider following a six-month pilot program.

“At the macro level, it’s going to be helpful, it’s going to make us more efficient, and our citizens will reap the benefits,” said Mayor Todd Strange. “On the micro level, it’s going to save us a ton of money over time.”

The platform includes a smartphone-based mobile app where workers can track route progress, noting, for example, when garbage cans are not on the curb and are therefore not collected. The data feeds also include operational information like idling time, speed, and hard braking, along with engine performance. The system alerts management to major and minor engine problems, and it also schedules preventative maintenance, all leading to anticipated cost savings later on, city officials said.

Strange said it will enable the city to perform preventative maintenance or fix small problems, rather than fit the bill when a major problem arises with one of the trucks. 

The move follows other smart city developments in this city of 202,000 residents, which is also the state's capital. In 2016, Montgomery was the first city in the state to launch an Internet exchange point. The following year, Montgomery launched an open data portal. And then earlier this year, the city announced the development of its Smart City Living Lab in its downtown, a nine-block area with new smart streetlights, app-based parking management and a free public Wi-Fi connection.

In April, the Smart Cities Council group named Montgomery as one of its five Smart Cities Readiness Challenge winners out of more than 200 cities that were considered. Montgomery is now participating in the year-long Readiness Program, which includes coaching and mentoring from the Smart Cities Council.

That said, Montgomery is mostly new to smart city projects. It’s a direction the city has been exploring for only the last few years. Strange acknowledges that, “we’ve got a long way to go.” 

Like many smart city projects, the intelligent garbage trucks will gather more than just rubbish. Because the trucks regularly travel all of the city’s streets several times a week, they can also serve as “roaming data centers,” collecting information related to other issues like paving problems, downed limbs or inoperable traffic signals.

“They [the trucks] can report that in real time. It comes back to public works HQ, and then you can dispatch someone out there to fix the issue,” said Griffith Waller, a spokesman for the city. 

Chris Conway, director of public works for Montgomery, pointed out that the trucks go down every street three times a week, and that their drivers can easily report problems, which are automatically fed into the city’s 311 system.

Because the RUBICON system closely monitors vehicle and engine performance, as well as the operation of the entire service network, when a truck does break down, it should make it easy for managers to quickly assess which truck may have finished its route and can pick up the rest of a failed truck’s route.

“This made things a little more seamless than they were before,” said Conway.

Skip Descant Staff Writer

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 Sacramento.

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