By Matt Ball |
02 March 2012 |
The intelligent infrastructure approach with the combination of sensors and systems for more efficient infrastructure management in our urban areas requires the alignment of quite a few technologies as well as rethinking how we plan and manage. This new approach is being touted by quite a few companies and is increasingly becoming part of policy discussions. The intelligent infrastructure vision is moving beyond a business strategy and into reality, with a prominent example being the City 2.0 platform and TED Prize.
The intelligent infrastructure approach with the combination of sensors and systems for more efficient infrastructure management in our urban areas requires the alignment of quite a few technologies as well as rethinking how we plan and manage. This new approach is being touted by quite a few companies and is increasingly becoming part of policy discussions. The intelligent infrastructure vision is moving beyond a business strategy and into reality, with a prominent example being the City 2.0
platform and TED Prize.
As the number of companies and cities that jump on this message increase, more promising areas of integrated technology application are emerging. The advantages of the efficiency of urban areas are seen as a critical point for global change adaptation to climate and population increases, where more can be done with less. Can a finely tuned city improve the lives of citizens and increase its economic vitality while also improving its environmental impact?Technology Components
The vision is made up of integrated software and sensors, with implications that span to social networks, design software, engineering tools, and beyond. Much of the infrastructure is in place with various systems, including geographic information systems, standing at the ready to be further animated with real-time information.
The sensor technologies have advanced rapidly, with the ability to rapidly network and deploy wirelessly, and with self-maintainence capacity through energy harvesting technologies. These sensor networks form a backbone of information sharing that can be augmented both by professional measurement tools and input from citizens. Sitting at the hub of all these data feeds are systems that have improved analytical capability, and cloud-based storage, to make sense of all the interactions in a way that is accessible, transparent, and well archived.
These inputs are reaching into design software from Autodesk, Bentley, Dassaultt, and Esri. Design software with data, simulation and analysis equals sustainable design. The paradigm shift is a modeling environment where multiple scenarios have been reviewed by an integrated team to achieve optimum efficiency.Integrators Ante Up
Out of the gates with the vision have been traditional technology integrators such as IBM, Siemens, Cisco, HP, Critigen, and others. The integrators have the field-based experience to deploy and fine-tune these systems that most municipalities lack, and many of these vendors are integrating their own hardware that has been configured and built around the delivery of solutions.
Packaged sensing networks for transportation and security are the quick and easy wins, with an increasing number of offerings on the market. Electric and water utilities also stand to benefit with increased monitoring and maintenance of underground and above-ground infrastructure. The smart grid is but a small example of the projected market, as it stands to garner more than $8 B in investment by 2015 according to analysts.
With the economy still lagging, there's a compelling payback on these systems that make job-creating investment very attractive. With the retooling that is needed, there's both the up-front benefit of investing locally and the long-term benefit of cost savings due to finely tuned systems that cut out waste and cost.Ultimate Promise
The ultimate promise of a smart connected cities is to enhance the existing urban ecologies for greater community connection, more efficient infrastructure, and better qualities of life. There is growing research regarding neighborhood-level interactions, where the quality of the neighborhood mimics it's economic performance. However, similar to our degree of understanding about our natural world, we're just beginning to pull together the various socio-economic and cultural inputs that are the true measure of a vibrant city.
The current goal is to harness all the information from our sensors and systems to better inform design. Improvements could be made at all levels, from the design of such network components as valves all the way up to a wholesale redesign or rethink with an emphasis on local rather than centralized capacities. As new technologies arise, each will need to be evaluated within the context of the city as a whole, and the integrated sensors and systems can even provide a virtual laboratory for testing and design prior to any investment in implementation.
Thinking about all the little leaps of advancement that have gotten us this far may not be the right blueprint greater advancement as it often pays to think more boldly. Just recently for instance, there was news
regarding a new liquid battery technology that can replace full charge within three minutes. While the technology seems ripe to fit within our current fuel-refill approach, the technology is aimed first at electric utilities who could easily even out the intermittent nature of renewable energy. It's just these kinds of revolutionary thinking that is being called for right now, and our ability to model and simulate our world accurately will be a crucial component in order to speed these transitions.