Here’s How Cities Can Jumpstart IoT Innovation (Contributed)

Turning data from the Internet of Things into something usable can be difficult. But smart cities are leveraging middleware and mobile tools to decode IoT data and turn it into intelligence.

by / August 9, 2019
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Just a matter of years ago, police had no choice but to rely on residents to phone in incidents involving gunshots. Fielding scattered calls from a handful of houses in a neighborhood made it incredibly difficult to pinpoint where a crime was actually committed.

Today law enforcement can use gunshot detection technology in tandem with a network of Internet of Things devices to pinpoint the location of a gunshot and send police officers and emergency personnel to the scene immediately. Some systems can even identify the number and type of weapons used, giving responders the information and data they need to respond with accuracy and speed.

According to estimates from Cisco, IoT-generated data will amount to more than 500 zettabytes annually by the end of 2019. That number is expected to increase exponentially as more devices become IoT-capable. Gartner predicts that the 6.5 billion devices that formed the IoT in 2016 will exceed 20 billion by 2020.

The challenge for public officials is taking IoT data and turning it into something usable — and, more importantly, powerful. As an example, cities can use relatively low-cost sensors to help reduce waste and preserve resources. In theory, this is great. In execution, it can require the installation of expensive and complex infrastructure in order to work, and that infrastructure has to be maintained. Many cities and local governments are already burdened with the costs of trying to update infrastructure, while securing the funds can take years, making smart city projects difficult to implement.

Further, this technology requires a seamless connection to operate correctly and to be used to its full potential. If networks aren’t capable of bringing together all of the information, the devices can’t deliver.

Potentially the biggest barrier to decoding this data is interoperability. Because almost every IoT device operates with a unique system and uses different data formats, it can be difficult for all of them to work together — a critical problem that cities must resolve in order to improve public safety. If the devices aren’t working together properly, then IoT isn’t working.

However, some cities are stepping in and acting as the middleman between different devices to make sure they all work together. Newcastle, Australia, is using a middleware platform in the city to connect the different forms of technology and ensure safe, seamless operations. Middleware allows multiple IoT-powered applications to connect and share information, integrating information from the array of devices that collect and store it differently.

This technology will change the way cities connect and make it possible for more places to integrate IoT devices into their operations. Because middleware eliminates the need to create complex systems with the ability to take in and interpret data from every different device, it opens doors to cities who previously might have thought they would have no way of connecting data from thousands of locations and IoT devices.

So, while interpreting and decoding data from IoT safety devices can be difficult, it’s absolutely possible for cities and local governments who are willing to be proactive and committed. If the proper infrastructures and connections can be put in place, this technology can connect and create smart cities.

The Waze Phenomenon

One of the IoT systems generating huge quantities of data is the Waze app, which lets drivers report accidents and construction and automatically routes them around slowdowns and congestion on the road. This information used to go only to drivers with the app installed on their smartphones, but the company is now making anonymous data available to cities through the Waze Connected Citizens program. With user-generated data, cities can spot and respond to incidents on roadways more quickly and effectively than with traffic cameras or 911 calls alone.

Without the means to utilize data, though, it can feel like more of a hindrance than a help. Waze partnered with Esri, a geographic information system company, to help solve this problem. The partnership means that cities can process and visualize real-time data almost instantly instead of spending months trying to organize it into something usable.

With the right combination of tools to collect and harness IoT data, cities can learn which intersections or highway corridors see the most car accidents, the traffic patterns that create the most congestion, and even where debris or roadkill clutter the roadways most often. With this information, cities won’t just be able to respond to occurrences more effectively, they’ll be able to anticipate problems and assign limited resources to the areas where the need is greatest.

Other systems also provide data to improve cities. A company called Genetec is making it easier for law enforcement officials to gather video surveillance data from citizens and private businesses alike. With file request links and QR codes that can be shared on social media or through news outlets, citizens can upload smartphone or surveillance camera footage to help cities catch and prosecute suspects conducting illegal activity.

The IoT revolution is here, but it’s up to public officials in cities around the world to take advantage of the data available because of it. According to the National League of Cities, 66 percent of cities were investing in a form of smart city technology as early as 2017. Officials who aren’t yet part of that group can use IoT-generated data to redirect limited responder resources and improve the safety and connectedness of their cities. 

Public officials have the power to make their cities smart cities by pairing IoT-generated data from safety applications and middleware tools to create information and intelligence that serves their communities and those who live in them, ultimately making them safer places for all. The data that will power the future exists — it’s just waiting to be harnessed.

Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson is the chief operating officer of Noonlight, a connected safety platform and mobile app. Noonlight delivers help from emergency services when needed and peace of mind when it’s not at the click of a button and by connecting smart devices to deliver automatic safety.

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