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I was invited by email over twenty-three times to see GSMA’s Innovation City when it came to Los Angeles. After many pitches, I caved in. There had to be something incredibly innovative. And I wanted to know how smart cities fit into the whole world of transportation, mobilisation and global climate change.

In my mind, I pictured a sort of Disneyland view of tomorrow.  Instead, I saw mind-boggling new technology with intelligent connectivity that could help save lives and the planet.

Keeping Tabs on Air Quality, Traffic and More with GeoTab

GeoTab-enabled vehicles with telematics roaming around cities can act as mobile smart sensors with information such as temperature, idle times, hard braking, smog detection and motion. The motion sensors can detect speed, driving styles and potholes.

Cities can analyse the data and know that an intersection is dangerous because there has been a lot of harsh braking. Then cities can change the traffic lighting patterns from the data. There is a benefit to overall air quality, when there is less idling there is less get less smog.

GeoTab did a project with Houston, in which smog sensors on city vehicles provide air quality alerts of areas the vehicles it drives through.

GeoTab has anonymised datasets of 1.9 million vehicles with 1.6 million in U.S. public anonymized data available. Data helps preventative measures, for example, to set up a no-idling zone in an area of the city where there is bad air quality. Big fleets can analyze their own data–then use the information helps to change driver behaviour depending on how deployment is managed.

Mmm. Fewer potholes, less dangerous intersections and no idle zones – I’m all up for that.

CalAmp Amps Up Sensors

CalAmp is offering sensors for trucking and package detection. A temperature and humidity sensor can be attached to a refrigerator truck or transporting dog kennel which could save a truckload of frozen fish or an adorable puppy. Or a sensor attached to plumbers or construction workers toolbox can show where it was left or help find their valuable assets.

A wireless sensor in a postal dropbox or UPS/DHL package box can transmit to the pickup vehicle that the box is empty and save the trip to pick up the letters or packages. Those sensors make sense.

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Wireless Smart Sensors

As wireless spectrum opens there is more bandwidth (LTE-M and NB-IoT ) for other kinds of sensors that affect city services. That’s where BeWhere comes in. Wireless moisture sensors can signal when a tree doesn’t need to be watered, saving the costs and pollution of sending out a watering truck.

Sensors communicate when the concrete on the floor of a building under construction becomes wet from rain making it unsafe. Sensors placed in a water main line indicate flow and if a line is going to break.

In Toronto, a water line burst, flooding the subway and disabling it. In 2014, a Los Angeles a water main line burst and flooded most of the campus of UCLA, causing $13 million in damages and shutting down major roadways.

Los Angeles should definitely BeWhere.

Smart Trash Bins Are Not Rubbish

Garbage collection can cause a lot of traffic as well as waste energy. The smart Bigbelly trash bin – with a connected platform – is powered by solar energy. It compacts the trash and requires fewer pickups.

Bigbelly is theft-proof, squirrels, vermin, homeless people and bears can’t get into it. Bigbelly models with transmitters offer Wi-Fi to help commuters at their bus stops know when the bus is coming and real-time notifications when a pickup is needed.

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I noticed a SmartBelly in a neighbouring city and, while the normal open cans were spilling over with Starbucks coffee cups, the Bigbelly looked svelte and clean. Only emptying the bins when necessary reduces fuel used and worker hours to check the bins for emptying. 

Super Computers Turn Images into Data

NVIDIA introduced its new EGX, Edge Supercomputing platform with the Metropolis DeepStream SDK. There are cameras installed all over cities which provide footage that is  hard for humans to analyse. However, Metropolis turns video into data. When the pixels are transformed into information, the AI the system identifies anomalies.

The system can identify if someone is crossing the street not making it across in time. Then the the dynamic traffic light control the light will stay red – until the slowcoach gets across. 

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Metropolis was shown processing up to 87 streaming video feeds. BMW is using EGX with data from multiple cameras and sensors on its inspection lines at its South Carolina factory to automate inspection. Where video AI really could help in cities is for emergencies — monitor accidents, bridges and high-voltage lines as well as identify emergencies such as floods and fires.

Los Angeles is currently surrounded by fires. Currently, the way emergency responders learn of fires is through 911 phone calls. Artificial intelligence and image processing could speed things up. 

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Quake Tech Sees Through Fires

The technology that really fired me up and meets a very clear need is Quake Tech Inc.’s C-Thru solution. Firefighters can’t see through smoke. The Quake Tech is incorporated into the mask (self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), a thermal camera and augmented reality lenses that show thermal images helping the firefighter ‘see-through’ the smoke.

Video from the in-mask camera is streamed to the commander who can make better decisions.

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Wow…

After I left the Innovation City display, I came close to almost every situation the intelligent technology innovations could help prevent; overflowing trash bins; potholes; traffic jams and fine white soot on my car from the fires surrounding LA.

I thought about how one exhibitor answered my ‘Why do we need smart cities?’ question.

His answer, “Because in the case of an emergency – you want to be saved.”

Yup.

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