Ireland is the proud host of the one and only IBM Smarter Cities Technology Centre. This lab conducts research in water, energy, marine environments, city fabric, transportation and computing offering such features as Smarter Water, Smarter Transportation and Smarter Energy.
The lab is led by top researchers from leading academic institutions including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Cambridge University, the Australian National University, and Trinity College Dublin. Additionally, the lab is directed and managed by individuals with significant experience at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center.
The research lab conducts research in collaboration with leading universities, cities, and industry partners and focuses on science and technology for intelligent urban and environmental systems considering such areas as analytics, optimizations, and systems for sustainable energy, urban water management, transportation, and the underlying city fabric that assimilates and shares data and models for these domains. Even though it has been operating for over a year now, it still belongs to the pioneers in the field. A most interesting research centre.
As an example, we have added a link to IBM’s activities in the “Smart Water” space.
Back in 2010, IBM launched the Smarter Cities Challenge to help 100 cities over a three-year period to face their most critical challenges. The company decided to do so by awarding $50 million worth of services, technology and knowledge provided by the company itself.
Even though the idea is that cities have to be prepared to match IBM’s investment with their own time and resources, the company launched the program to assist cities as it found that cities are most often struggling with the following issues:
- Do more with less
- Bridge silos in information and operations
- Use civic engagement to drive better results
- Invest in infrastructure for better management
Cities can apply for this challenge by uploading a fillable PDF form which can be uploaded to the Smarter Cities Challenge website. Additionally, each city is obliged to submit a brief letter from the city mayor or equivalent executive officer of the municipal government, confirming the validity of the application.
The PDF application form is provided on the website and is available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese (Simplified) and Japanese and requires cities such things as:
- to clearly outline a problem or opportunity to explore rather than a solution to be implemented
- to provide evidence that the proposal is connected to the top priorities and challenges of city and community leadership
- to emphasise efforts to address cross-system or services challenges, to align with the notion that cities are composed of systems of systems.
Each city participating in the challenge receives a team of 5-6 IBM experts to work with the city for a three-week period on a strategic challenge identified by the mayor and top city leaders. During this period, the experts meet with dozens of stakeholders in government, business, non-profit and other organizations to examine the city as a ‘system of systems’ and to come up with potential solutions.
The 2012 recipients in Europe were Birmingham, Dortmund, Siracusa and Málaga. The Smarter Cities Challenge 2013 application cycle opened in late June and will close on 7 September 2012. Cities: make sure you’re part of it!!
Today we are reviewing IBM’s Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) which is, according to IBM, specifically designed to create Smarter Cities.
With raising populations, ageing infrastructures and shrinking tax revenues today’s cities demand more than traditional solutions. In IBM’s words, “Innovation is at the heart of a smarter city which is what provided this Intelligent Operations Center.” The IOC is designed to provide cities with the ability to apply insight and global best practices from 2000 smart projects worldwide to meet unique challenges. The result is exceptional citizen services and an increase quality of life enabled by shared information across agencies/ departments anticipating problems to minimize disruptions, and coordinating resources allowing rapid response to unexpected circumstances.
The IOC helps cities of all sizes to better manage and monitor the following services:
- Emergency response
- Energy optimisation
- Public safety
To give an example of one of the services that the Intelligent Operations Center provides, we will consider the transport/ congestion feature of the system. The congestion feature aims to relieve disruptions in traffic and to predict traffic conditions based on real-time traffic conditions and predictive volume along the routes of a city.
It will assist motorists on their travels with real-time traffic delay avoidance, a feature that maps the best route based on real-time traffic conditions. The system calculates ‘what-if’ scenarios to allow predictive analytics and smart decision making. To make the IOC work efficiently, a City Traffic Manager is to be appointed in each city to keep traffic running smoothly. As the image above shows, he or she is responsible to spot traffic disruptions and to initiate the smart calculations made by the IOC.
In case of an accident, the citizen will receive 3 alternative routes through his or her smartphone. At least one of the alternative routes includes public transport, guiding motorists to the nearest train/ subway station with available parking while showing fare and schedule information. Similar smart applications are provided for the other services that are listed above.
The Intelligent Operations System provides cities with an accessible tool to monitor and manage various services that contribute to making the city smarter and through that, more efficient.
According to us, systems like IBM’s IOS are vital to make a city function better.
Smart Cities. Although this sounds a bit futuristic, there are some companies that are already working hard to make this happen. They are developing and using sensors and software to make cities run more efficient and smooth and to improve the life of the citizens. Chris O’Connor, Vice President of engineering and smart city products at IBM talked about the smart city services. He gives a glimpse of how the first Smart Cities will look like.
Cities have always used the newest technologies to improve their infrastructure. And although the new technologies always seem smart, when we talk about smart technologies now, we mean working with sensors and software to improve the city. Smart cities place sensors on their infrastructure to gather as much data as possible. They will be able to know who is using water and how much, how busy the city centre is or where traffic is flowing. And the software can then analyze the data and use it to suggest actions, provide useful information or offer solutions to problems like traffic jams. So it’s up to the sensors and the software to make a city run better.
O’Connor said that it’s not needed for cities to invest a lot of money in the sensors since there already are a lot of sensors in cities that can be used. Examples are water meters, monitors for elevators, stop lights, toll booths, buses, taxis and parking tickets. Social media can also be used to gather useful information from residents. Cities can analyze the already public available tweets and status updates.
Some of the projects that IBM already set up are for example a water monitoring system in South Bend, Ind. And they also used sensors to link emergency response and transportation departments of Davao in the Philippines so the departments can better work together in emergencies. IBM uses a cloud service to run their systems so cities don’t need to install the software. They already set up about 2,000 similar projects over the last few years.
So the Smart City concept is on the right way, but there still is plenty of work to do. The systems should for example cooperate better. Now systems can easily communicate with sensors in the same category, like water sensors or transportation sensors. But in the future, even the transportation sensors and the water sensors have to be able to communicate. So companies need to develop a computing language that makes these systems work even better together.
Chris O’Connor, vice president of engineering and smart city products at IBM, recently talked about the smart city services they offer and a glimpse into the first generation of smart cities.
When “smart cities” are talked about today, they usually mean adding sensors to city infrastructure to gather information. Software analyses the data received and suggests actions to officials on how they can make the city run better. The software might have solutions to help residents conserve water, for example, or reduce traffic congestion.
Many sensors already exist for cities to use. There are monitors for water meters, elevators, stop lights, toll booths, buses, taxis and parking tickets, O’Connor said. Cities may also gather publicly available social media information from their residents, such as tweets and status updates.
IBM has used data from these sensors to better link the emergency response and transportation departments of Davao in the Philippines, so the two departments can work together in emergencies, O’Connor said. A system has also been set up by IBM for South Bend, Indiana, that monitors the water systems in the city and helps the city reroute storm runoff. The entire system runs in an IBM-run cloud service, so South Bend doesn’t have to install the software itself. 2,000 similar projects over the last few years, all set up by IBM.
The next generation of smart city systems should be able to cooperate better than they do now. O’Connor mentioned that at the moment, sensors in the same category usually can communicate with each other easily. A transportation device can’t talk with a water device as easily, so companies like IBM, are working to develop standards for the future that will run their systems using the same computing languages.