Learn why the IoT is essential to rethinking our cities and how data plays an essential role.
- The success of cities has, unfortunately, impacted the quality of air for millions of people. This is the result of the combustion of fossil fuels, like coal and petroleum, as well as other chemicals that spew into the environment, as a result of our means of production. In addition to contributing to climate change, air pollution directly effects the health of humans. It's not an abstract topic. Bad air sends too many people to hospitals each year, and is a contributor towards premature death in some parts of the world.
It's in our interest, therefore, to reduce, and eliminate this harm. While we've made great progress to clean our air, and laws in countries around the world have been positive, there is a long way to go. Many countries struggle to balance the quest for city growth and prosperity, with the attendant negative environmental consequences. Largely, though, there is a momentum towards positive action. Detecting and reporting on the quality of air in realtime over large geographic areas, has traditionally been a difficult, and expensive task to achieve.
How might we think about it in a smart city, and open data context? We're only able to think completely differently about it because of the emergence of new technologies, and big data. The first thing we need, are low-cost air particulate sensors. Check. These new miniature, low-cost sensors, that will connect to the internet, are characteristic of the next generation of the internet. The Internet of Things. If the first phase of the internet was to connect humans to each-other, a project only half-done as of 2017, the next phase will be connecting billions of devices together.
Since there are, and will ultimately be, many more devices than people, this phase will be much bigger and more significant. Connecting things together in a city context, means that cities will be one of the best platforms for the Internet of Things. So hundreds, perhaps thousands, or more, of these sensors will collect data, and send relevant data to a collection service somewhere in the cloud. I say relevant, because sending everything might be redundant, and some logic processing can be done at the central location.
We call this computing at the edge. Now the sensor is able to send the data over short-distance wireless, which then hops onto the common cellular network, that finally connects to physical fiber cable. From there, the data makes it way to a cloud provider, say, a data repository. This data can then be made open, and anyone can then access it, analyze it, and produce results. In addition to the major scientific agencies, citizen scientists can contribute, too.
Many cities are already exploring this technology, including New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Toronto. Let's look at this visualization of air quality as produced by a French startup called Plume Labs. Plume sensor devices are purchased by individuals in cities all over the world. All the sensor data is aggregated for areas, and rendered on easy-to-interpret visualizations, as you can see here.
These visualizations are available on the web, and via devices such as smartphones and tablets. The data can inform individuals, and influence policy-makers. The visualization also makes suggestions for behavior on a given day, based on air quality. You can see here suggestions whether it's a good idea to eat outside, or do sports activities on a certain day. Data, sensors, and visualization, make citizens and cities smarter, and will be game-changing in the years ahead.
Good quality, realtime data, being pounded on by a wide range of stakeholders, has the potential to completely change how we understand, and solve, air quality issues, and more. Imagine an Internet of Things in a city context, connecting all types of sensors, which can detect everything from available parking spaces, to water leaks, to crowd behavior, to traffic analysis, and beyond. Then imagine all the valuable realtime data which will be captured, and made available.
This data can help decision makers, power a myriad of apps, or even trigger other processes in other devices. We're really entering an exciting time. In the years ahead, we'll need a lot of new skills and solutions, to meet these extraordinary needs, and demands.
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