Innovative Technologies That Drive The Smart Cities

Issue #19

I’m Vignesh Kaushik. I curate and write articles on Thank God It’s Computational to help architects, designers, and urban planners leverage cutting-edge technologies on AEC projects.

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Smart cities revolve around the idea of using new, connective technologies to make urban living more efficient, cost-effective and more environmentally friendly. The smart city industry is projected to be a $400 billion market by 2020, with 600 cities worldwide. These cities are expected to generate about 60% of the world’s GDP by 2025, according to McKinsey research.

Building the infrastructure needed for a smart city is resulting in a demand for new job roles with new skill sets. Cities are becoming more willing to collaborate with academia and the private sector to create opportunities for localized innovation by setting up Urban Incubators. As Architects and Urban Planners, we can leverage the core skills we have with our knowledge of how buildings & cities function and add value to such incubators. But we definitely need to raise our game in understanding cutting-edge technology.

The focus of this week’s TGIC is to look in-depth into some of the ingenious technology solutions produced by startups and citizen-led efforts, that drive innovation in the big smart cities.

City Information Modelling (CIM) Technology

CityZenith • Visualizing Big Data for Urban Planning, Above & Below Ground

Working with a number of partners and open source tools, Cityzenith has designed a cohesive platform of modules to address city problems. These technologies, working together, constitute 5D Smart City™, a City Information Management (CIM) platform designed to support the aggregation, storage and mining of live data from APIs and large datasets of disparate formats and data quality. In Chicago alone, there are over 100,000 excavations a year by various parties into the street. Every time someone digs into the ground, that’s a theoretical change in the data. How do we then build a 3D underground map for a city that’s not only comprehensive, but able to self-maintain, given all of those routine changes? To address this problem, City of Chicago along with City Digital assembled a team of experts including CityZenith and Esri, a mapping software company to develop the technologies that constitute the UIM Platform.

Video: Underground Infrastructure Mapping (UIM) Platform

Video: Underground Infrastructure Mapping (UIM) Platform

CyberCity 3D • Geospatial Modeling on the Browser

CyberCity 3D is a geospatial modeling and mapping company that streams 3D buildings for GIS. The company creates high resolution building models using its patented 3D modeling process. These “smart” models come with measurement data such as height, roof slope, etc., with up to 6-inch accuracy, making them valuable tools for a variety of geospatial analysis applications. Buildings, streamed on-demand, are based on the view and can be combined with satellite imagery, terrain, and vector data. Users can highlight individual buildings and click on them to obtain metadata. CyberCity 3D has launched streaming cities with Cesium including Washington, DC; Miami-Dade County, Fl; Cambridge, MA; Fayetteville, NC; and Honolulu, HI.

Explore Downtown Miami on the browser in 3D

Explore Downtown Miami on the browser in 3D

Smart Law Enforcement Technology

ShotSpotter • Precision Gunshot Detection

ShotSpotter provides surveillance technology for sound detection of gunshots and is working with Current by GE to include the sensors in smart streetlights around the world. When a gunshot is fired in an urban area, it’s often difficult for responding police officers to determine exactly where it was located and how dangerous the situation might be. But surveillance technology from ShotSpotter allows cities to triangulate gunfire within 10 feet of where it happened and determine how many shooters there are, even before the police arrive on the scene. The technology is also used in non-traditional city deployments, such as at Kruger National Park in South Africa, where it can protect against poaching.

Video: Shotspotter Gunfire Alert and Analysis

Video: Shotspotter Gunfire Alert and Analysis

Smart Natural Resources Management Technology

Global Forest Watch • Forest Change Detection

Global Forest Watch (GFW) uses cutting edge technology and science to provide the timeliest and most precise information about the status of forest landscapes worldwide, including near-real-time alerts showing suspected locations of recent tree cover loss. GFW is a growing partnership of organizations contributing data, technology, funding, and expertise. Using the excellent datasets provided by the partnership, Vizzuality, a data viz startup, have designed, developed and refined Global Forest Watch into a sophisticated, responsive web-mapping application that puts near real-time data at your fingertips. What used to be a yearly routine can now be undertaken weekly. And that data is extremely precise: we can detect change at a scale of just 30x30m (half the size of a football pitch).

Blue: Tree cover gain; Pink: Tree cover loss

Blue: Tree cover gain; Pink: Tree cover loss

Smart Transportation Management Technology

Remix • A Planning Platform for Public Transit

Remix lets planners design public transit services, like new bus routes, new bus stops, and frequency changes, on a digital platform that simulates the impacts of those design changes. That can include their cost, how they would impact travel times for individuals in the city, and how they would increase mobility for people–all in real time. One of the Remix tools that is especially useful is an isochrone map where a figure named Jane (think of her like the man you place in Google Maps Street View) acted as a proxy for a public transit rider in the system. Planners could place Jane anywhere they wanted on their map to see how service proposals would impact the distance she could travel in increments of 15, 30, 45, and 60 minutes.

Video: Browser-based Transit Planning Platform

Video: Browser-based Transit Planning Platform

Rapid Flow • Intelligent Traffic Signal Control

Surtrac is an innovative approach to real-time traffic signal control, combining research from artificial intelligence and traffic theory. Each traffic light makes its own decisions regarding when to turn red or green. First, Rapid Flow puts a computer at each intersection with a detection camera or radar. Each individual intersection watches the traffic approaching it, and in real time builds a timing plan of how much green time each approach gets, so that the vehicles it’s seen through its detection get through as efficiently as possible. After a signal studies the situation, it communicates expected traffic to its downstream neighbors as well. It’s those intersections communicating with one another to achieve a coordinated network behavior with progressions of green as you move. These smart signals reduce travel time by 25%, braking by 30% and idling by more than 40%.

Video: Surtrac's scalable network of sensors

Video: Surtrac's scalable network of sensors

Smart Waste Management Technology

Smart Bin • Intelligent Waste Monitoring & Route Optimization

The SmartBin wireless ultrasonic sensor is mounted inside the bin under the lid and reports the container fill-level up to a depth of 3 meters, temperature, geo positioning, and tilt-level to the SmartBin Live platform. The sensor can be remotely configured to report these measurements once per day or more frequently as required. The bins are also solar-powered and come with compactors which give each bin up to eight times the capacity of a normal bin. This means that recycling trucks only pick up recycling bins which are full, not empty, thus saving a lot of time and money.

Smart Bin Dashboard for Jurong Region, Singapore

Smart Bin Dashboard for Jurong Region, Singapore

Smart Resilience Technology

Flood Network • Citizen-led Flood Monitoring Platform

Citizens are also taking advantage of distributed sensor networks to plan for flooding. The citizen-led Oxford Flood Network has developed a system of sensors to gather data on water level from stream and groundwater sources and anticipate flood incidents. The system relies on sensors that use ultrasonic rangefinders, positioned above local waterways, to measure changes in the water level and indicate flood risks. The network makes use of TV whitespace between channels—made available by the local telecom provider—to transmit data, making information publicly available in real time.

Oxford Flood Network Dashboard

Oxford Flood Network Dashboard