Smart cities will be built on IoT - OMS Intelligence Solutions

November 9, 2018

The Internet of Things is the cornerstone of smart cities

The smart city concept uses information and communication technologies to improve the quality, performance and interactivity of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to increase communication between citizens and the government. This results in an efficiently running city that takes into consideration the needs of its residents. For such a city to emerge, it needs to incorporate IoT.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is based on the interconnectedness of physical devices such as off-site sensors whose data it can collect and exchange, while some of these devices can be remotely controlled. An IoT system also consists of information systems that are deployed in the data centre of a private or public cloud and contain a model of the physical world, enabling better management of these devices. These are IoT platforms, large data processing and evaluation systems, and user interface systems which include web or mobile applications.

IoT in a smart city

Every city has a physical infrastructure consisting of various physical devices whose information and behaviour is critically important for a city. These include public lighting, waste management, meteorological information, transport and its management, parking, security etc. Physical devices deployed in these areas may record important information. If the operator responsible for a particular aspect of infrastructure receives this data in due time and in corresponding quality, it is potentially valuable to him. This value becomes real when the operator has set up processes and information systems that can act on this information, resulting in some kind of a benefit such as resource saving or improved service quality.

A typical example of simple and straightforward IoT usage in cities is provided by waste management, which requires attaching a fill-level sensor to a container. The sensor regularly – for instance, every 15 minutes – checks the fullness of the container and forwards the information via a communication layer, such as 4G network, to the information system, which then records it.
Based on this data, the information system plans the waste collection route, optimising waste management costs and increasing public satisfaction with this service. Some waste management systems can integrate information provided by third parties – for example about traffic density – or are able to use artificial intelligence to plan routes even more efficiently. Another possible extension are applications that enable reporting by citizens of when something is wrong with the waste containers themselves, such as a fire or when they are full.
Another nice illustration of urban IoT usage is provided by smart public lighting systems. Public lighting systems have two types of on-site devices: a switchboard and the light fittings. These devices are both sensors and activators, since they can be actively controlled. The first benefit of a smart public lighting system lies in its ability to reduce costs by optimising and controlling the illumination intensity of the individual lamps with lighting profiles and twilight sensors. Another possible benefit is the ability to actively control lighting according to the current city needs – for instance to increase the light intensity when something dangerous is happening.

The composition of IoT in a smart city

What does a smart city IoT system consist of and what do we need to know about it? Every IoT system – not only those deployed in smart cities – contain three layers: the edge layer, communication layer and cloud layer.

The edge layer

comprises the off-site devices

The communication layer

contains the technologies ensuring the transfer of data between devices and information systems in the cloud

The cloud layer

is made up of the information systems deployed in data centres that make possible the remote control of the off-site devices, the processing and evaluation of data provided by the devices, and the control of the whole system by a user or another intelligence.

Edge layer

The edge layer consists of all the off-site IoT components. These are mainly data-collecting sensors, such as sensors measuring environmental parameters that monitor the values of temperature, humidity, pressure, smog concentration etc. Some sensors can be controlled remotely, such as turning on/off the charging of an electric vehicle in a public street lamp. These sensors are called activators, since they allow us to activate certain behaviours or traits. In the case of more complex systems, the edge layer also contains an off-site central control unit – a so-called concentrator – that enables the real-time data collection from sensors and forwards it in a concentrated form. It can also immediately react to the collected data and act on it using multiple activators, without having to communicate with the information systems in the cloud.

The concentrator is mainly used in scenarios when there is a need for:

  • optimising data transfer to the cloud (it can optimise the transmission range or number of devices transferring data, thus reducing communication layer costs)
  • actively manage and respond to the collected data immediately in the field without having to communicate with the cloud information systems (thus allowing faster system response time)
  • the ability to control the sensory part even when a cloud communication failure occurs, i.e. when the connection goes out, the switchboard must be able to control the light fittings for several days even without a power supply

In more complicated or interdisciplinary scenarios in the smart city concept, the concentrator is a key component in ensuring the reliability, robustness and interactivity of the city infrastructure management. The following factors should be taken into consideration when selecting the right sensors or activators to be implemented on the edge layer:
The sensor’s power consumption, or the availability of electricity When there is no electricity available in the place of deployment, the component must be optimised to run on a battery or another power source.

The sensor’s required place of deployment and the area’s coverage with sensors has an impact on the choice of connection and its parameters, as they must be supported by the sensor. The above-mentioned aspects show that the edge layer, ensuring the availability of electricity and a suitable connection, offers a substantial advantage when implementing IoT solutions in a smart city concept. Public lighting systems serve as a good example since they are present in most inhabited areas, have access to electricity, and their switchboards can be equipped with internet connection. They can therefore be considered as an optimal infrastructure for the implementation of IoT systems.

The above-mentioned aspects show that the edge layer, ensuring the availability of electricity and a suitable connection, offers a substantial advantage when implementing IoT solutions in a smart city concept. Public lighting systems serve as a good example since they are present in most inhabited areas, have access to electricity, and their switchboards can be equipped with internet connection. They can therefore be considered as an optimal infrastructure for the implementation of IoT systems.

Communication layer

When designing and implementing IoT systems, the communication layer is often underrated. However, it is a very important part of the system that ensures data transfer between the off-site devices and the information systems in the cloud. The interconnectedness of IoT systems usually has to be designed and implemented in two places:

  • The data transfer between the sensors and the concentrator (if there is a concentrator in the design)
  • The data transfer between the sensors or the concentrator and the information systems in the cloud

The communication layer’s task is to ensure the transfer of data and commands between the concentrator and the sensory device. Since the sensory part is usually very diverse – and where longterm implementation is concerned, it will stay so – the concentrator must support multiple protocols and interfaces to enable communication between various types of sensors and activators.
Such protocols are DALI, EnOcean, Bluetooth, KNX, BACnet, Ethernet, GSM etc. Public lighting systems also use technologies such as Power Line (transmission over electric power), LoRaWAN (wireless transfer on an unprotected band) or IQRF (wireless mesh network).

In the second case, the communication layer has to transfer data and commands between the information systems in the cloud and the concentrator, or between particular sensors or activators, securely and in real time. The Internet is mainly used for this type of connection, which is protocols communicating via TCP/IP such as MQTT.

Cloud layer

The main task of the information systems in the cloud layer is the transfer of data from the edge layer, its storage for further processing, and reacting to the obtained events (not only information). The first part of the information systems in this layer records and controls the devices in the edge layer. The IoT platform ensures their functionality. Since smart city projects will inevitably require the interaction between the various domains of the city, an important parameter that must characterise the IoT platform is an openness to establish connection with other systems in order to transfer data and commands, which will automate their interaction. For instance, when a security camera identifies a dangerous event happening, the light fitting can illuminate that area with more intensity.

The second part of the information systems is responsible for a time-consuming task: the correct processing of a large volume of data, continuously sent by the edge layer via the IoT platform.
This processing is carried out by the Big Data platform. Unlike the IoT platform whose task is to immediately process, store and react to incoming data, the Big Data platforms perform complicated operations on it. These systems are actively used for operations demanding complex, logical work with data, for example prediction analyses or complex queries for a large number of device attributes. An example might be the immediate, complex information on the state of public lighting in real time, visually displaying lights that are out of order or damaged.

The third part of the information systems of the cloud layer are systems designed to interact with the user, which is graphical user interfaces (GUI). Their purposes may vary. For instance, one web application may be designed for the public lighting operator in the dispatching centre, while a second mobile application is for the workers responsible for the on-site installation and maintenance of the lighting system. It is essential that the user has access to all the necessary information in the form and range he/she needs or is able to utilise. For example, a city operations worker should have access to operational data from all the systems in a single place: a city dashboard showing information from multiple systems.

Why cities need IoT

There is a consensus that information and communication technologies deployed in a smart city should gradually lead to the more efficient use of the physical infrastructure such as roads, built-up areas and other physical assets. This requires analysing the collected data, along with the ability to react to it in real time in a relevant manner, later also by applying AI elements. Another expected consequence is a more efficient citizen involvement in the management and decision-making process concerning the city through open innovative processes and electronisation, and the improvement of the collective ‘intelligence’ of city institutions by setting up an eGovernment with an emphasis on citizen participation. Taking advantage of all the available functionalities and technologies normally deployed in smart cities can thus lead to an improved city management and planning, and a more comfortable life for its residents.

The challenges and preconditions of a successful implementation

When implementing a smart city concept, the implementers should think in a long-term context that will be crucial for the successful development of such a complex topic as the smart city undoubtedly is.

Current attempts at implementing smart city concepts face the following challenges:

  • the specific problems and challenges a particular city poses that have priority from a long-term perspective, requiring the definition and prioritisation of the specific requirements placed on the information and communication system of a smart city and on its implementation plans
  • the existing installations of information systems in smart cities and prototype solutions (mainly of IoT), requiring the possibility of efficient integration at the data and service level
  • yet unknown requirements the future might bring, calling for flexibility where development and integration are concerned
  • a large number of events and a big volume of data, along with the complexity of the information and communication system in a smart city, requiring a robust and scalable information and communication system
  • limited sources of funding and little control and support for the implementation at the city level, requiring the development of a sensible smart city implementation plan

Regarding the economic aspect of smart city projects, the following options should be taken into account:

  • the services and data in a smart city project should not only be intended for citizens, but also for all those involved in the smart city’s life, including private companies and non-profit organisations,
  • the services and data in a smart city project should not only lead to cost optimisation but should also create new revenue areas for the city and its organisations.
The preconditions and requirements for successful implementation

To ensure long-term success when implementing a smart city concept, current challenges should be taken into consideration and the following prerequisites should be met:

  • meeting a city’s specific needs and requirements by implementing the necessary modules of the information and communication system (e.g. traffic planning),
  • optimising investments and the necessary resources by implementing measures in several stages, depending on the city’s priorities and available resources,
  • allowing the implementation of interconnected services between various components of the information and communication system (including for unknown requests) by using open system interfaces at all levels and supporting interdisciplinary scenarios with the smart city system,
  • being able to generate revenue by offering new products and services in the city.
An open smart city concept

Based on the challenges the successful implementation of a smart city concept currently poses and the conditions it requires, it is important that the following requirements be fulfilled:

  • an open system architecture based on standard and publicly accepted protocols with the possibility of integrating and changing components on any level or in any domain, specifically:

a. the ability to enhance or change the sensory part of the device and to integrate it into the concentrator,
b. the ability to change or enhance the edge layer and to integrate it into the IoT platform by means of standardised communication,
c. the ability to integrate new modules by means of standardised IoT and Big Data interfaces,
d. the ability to offer access to data and services to third parties by means of standardised IoT and Big Data interfaces,

  • an open ecosystem of vendors supporting the accepted standards for data exchange and remote administration.

 

Author: Ján Masaryk, MAKERS

OMS Intelligence Solutions, s. r. o., Dojč 419, 906 02 Dojč, Slovakia, Phone: +421 34 694 0811, Fax: +421 34 694 0888.

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