Smart cities are here today -- and getting smarter

Big Data, mobile, sensors, social media are already in use, but security and privacy are issues.

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In another initiative, the city has built an intelligent transportation system for its Traffic Management Center (TMC) that monitors traffic in real time and is designed to combat the costs and aggravation associated with a continual increase in downtown congestion. "This is not new to our industry, but what is new is the level of control the TMC affords," says Bruce Dressel, manager of the center.

The system uses a wireless mesh network linked to more than 300 traffic signal controllers and 110 high-definition video cameras that monitor traffic flow, as well as 36 electronic signs that inform drivers in real time about traffic congestion and collisions.

Connecting the digital video cameras across numerous city blocks using traditional Ethernet cables wasn't feasible, so planners implemented a fiber optic network that leverages wireless mesh radios for the last mile. These mesh radios can deliver high-bandwidth live digital video in the most challenging conditions and topologies, Dressel says.

With the system, city managers can precisely match traffic light sequencing with prevailing traffic conditions. The ability to view live video feeds from heavy traffic areas lets officials make fast decisions on how to prevent or reduce congestion, improve information given to drivers via the signs and actively manage traffic affected by special events, weather and emergency situations.

smart cities

This proved very useful in January, when one of Scottsdale's motorcycle police officers had a traffic accident on the local portion of the Loop 101 freeway. The roadway was closed for four hours during the investigation.

Scottsdale's Traffic Management Center and the Arizona Department of Transportation's Traffic Operations Center worked together to reroute traffic off the freeway and onto city streets. The city's traffic signals were put in timing patterns designed not only to increase the green light time along the emergency detour route, but also to adjust progression to favor improved traffic flow from signal to signal along the route, Dressel explains. Traffic operations staff posted specific messages on freeway e-signs that detailed which alternate routes drivers should take based on the signal plans.

"What used to take two days to change signal timing at an intersection can now be done in two minutes," Dressel says.

Yet another project is Speak Up Scottsdale, a moderated online discussion forum where citizens can offer new ideas and comment or vote on a wide range of issues and ideas provided by other users. "To date we have primarily found benefit from the site by soliciting input on a particular topic, and we marry that with the other public input that we receive using more traditional channels [such as] open houses, email, council meetings, etc.," Hartig says.

"We see this as one more avenue for reaching people" and getting their opinions on various issues of interest to city residents, Hartig says.

Dubuque, Iowa

The city government here is overseeing Smarter Sustainable Dubuque (SSD), part of the city's initiative to help the city meet residents' environmental, economic and social equity needs now and in the future.

SSD, launched in 2009, is a public/private partnership between the city, IBM Watson Research Center's Global Smarter Planet initiative and others.

Dubuque water project
Dubuque, Iowa, used analytics and cloud computing to help reduce residents' water usage by an average of 7%, or 89,000 gallons over a nine-week period.

One completed project is Smarter Water, in which the city used data analytics and cloud computing offerings from IBM to reduce residents' water usage. In 2010, as part of a pilot, the city created a cloud-based portal that helped 151 households conserve an average 7% in water consumption -- an estimated 89,000 gallons of water over a nine-week period.

Water savings were measured by comparing the water consumption of the pilot households with another 152 control-group households that had identical smart meters, but no access to the analysis and insights provided to the pilot group.

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