What makes ‘smart cities’ go? Wireless sensors

Smart cities and wireless technology

The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing many aspects of our lives. With thousands of interconnected devices, we can automate processes that are done manually today. We can also configure everyday objects to communicate directly with one another and collect an abundance of data. 

Underlying the IoT is wireless sensor technology, which has improved significantly over the last decade. The emergence of low-power wide area networks (LPWANs) has made it easier for organizations to deploy wireless sensors for years before needing to recharge any batteries. One of the most effective applications for IoT sensors is in the development of modern-day “smart cities.”

All over the world, cities are tapping into the IoT in new and exciting ways with wireless sensors. Already, we can see the impact that wireless sensors have on individuals and businesses in urban areas.  

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Wireless Sensors Reducing Traffic & Improving Safety

Traffic is a major issue in many large metropolitan areas. Thanks to wireless sensor technology, traffic enforcement officials and city planners can reduce much of the vehicle congestion that exists in city streets. Development teams can also use wireless sensor data to make roads safer for all groups.

For example, in Barcelona, proximity sensors are helping drivers find parking spots more easily. These sensors detect when spots are open in certain locations and send updates to a mobile app in real time. Drivers can use the app to find open spaces and get off the road more quickly. 

In Boston, Verizon is using wireless sensors to collect information at specific intersections to identify those that are high-risk for accidents. Sensor data is combined with camera footage and studied alongside traffic patterns. With this information, city planning teams in Boston may be able to re-design intersections and increase the overall safety for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists.  

The startup, CivicSmart, is turning ordinary parking meters into smart meters that can alert parking enforcement officers when cars have been parked too long. On top of that, the company installs wireless tilt sensors in meters that can detect if a meter’s physical angle changes in any way, indicating a potential accident or tampering.

Smart Buildings Minimizing Environmental Footprints

Wireless sensors can also be deployed in buildings to help facility managers optimize internal conditions and reduce overall energy consumption. In addition, security teams are using the technology to support onsite personnel who have to monitor large areas or high-rises. 

With wireless temperature sensors, facility leads can detect critical system failures and monitor other temperature-sensitive equipment. For example, wireless sensors can be placed near HVAC systems and programmed to send alerts if temperatures rise or fall past certain thresholds. The Edge building in Amsterdam has close to 30,000 internal sensors–optical, motion, humidity, etc.–that all work together “like synapses in a brain,” according to Bloomberg. 

On the security side, wireless sensors are a low-cost solution for enhancing surveillance. Sensors can track door and window openings or monitor remote areas. They can even serve as panic buttons for those who may need emergency assistance. 

Upgrading Waste Management

Interestingly, many cities are using wireless sensors to enable efficiencies in waste management operations. Sensors can be installed in trash receptacles and programmed to alert waste management companies when bins are full. 

For example, the island of Singapore has over 40 smart bins distributed across the city. The sensors send emails or texts when trash rises above a specified level.

With this information, logistics teams can plan better routes for drivers. After a short trial period, the city found that collection time was reduced by 80 percent thanks to the wireless sensors installed in trash receptacles.

Smart Cities Only Becoming Smarter

Wireless sensors are impacting modern cities in countless ways. As the technology continues to improve, expect more and more metropolitan areas to incorporate IoT applications into everyday urban life and business operations. 

Smart cities are only getting smarter. And that’s a great thing.