Tag Archives: sensors

Japan radiation monitoring goes crowd, open source

A new open and crowd-sourced initiative to deploy more geiger counters all over Japan looks to be happening. Safecast, formerly RDTN.org, recently met and exceeded its $33,000 fund-raising goal kick-starter, which should help Safecast send between 100 and 600 geiger counters to the catastrophe-struck country.

The data captured from the geiger counters will be fed into Safecast.org, which aggregates radiation readings from government, nonprofit, and other sources, as well as into Pachube, a global open-source network of sensors. Safecast is one of the larger crowd-sourced monitoring efforts, not unlike a similar effort in the United States that predated the Japanese disaster. Safecast plans to deploy hundreds of geiger counters in Japan.

For the last month, the Safecast crew and volunteers have been collaborating with universities in Japan and driving their geiger counters around the country and taking measurements. Safecast’s early monitoring trips north of Tokyo returned some disturbing findings, including elevated radiation levels in a kindergarten classroom.

Safecast link: http://blog.safecast.org/

Technologies that will help shape Smart Cities.

There are a lot of technologies which we already use today that will probably also be (more) relevant in the future. Today’s technologies will evolve to be more powerful and they will integrate more with each other and with the city.

Smartphones allow us to communicate anytime and anywhere. They contain a lot of sensors like cameras, gyros, accelerometers, GPS, compasses and so on. In the future, the number, accuracy and performance of these sensors will grow and the combination of sensors will give users a powerful sense of their surroundings. With your smartphone, you will be able to interact with the digital and physical world. There are some ideas that personal mobile computers will become fashion statements. You will be able to wear them like a watch, headset or glasses so you’ll be able to interact visual and audible with the city and its surroundings. These will be technologies of the future of smart technologies.

Another change that will occur in already existing technology is the 3G and 4G networks that now provide acceptable but intermittent connections at an ok speed. Deployment of the cell towers in the future will be faster and more organic. There will be so many devices in the cities of the future that even remote neighborhoods will be able to enjoy solid wireless access to the cloud. The idea is that smartphones won’t have signal strength indicators since wireless access to the cloud will be pervasive and ultrafast all the time.

Cloud computing in the future will contain all of our personal information. The applications (like Google Drive now) will be available at anytime and everywhere. You should be able to edit a text document on the train or adjust sales proposals at a clients office.

In the future, eye-tracking and voice recognition technologies will be combined with augmented reality. These futuristic information glasses will transmit objects that you’re viewing and words you’re speaking to your smartphone which will interpret, find and compute your intent and transmit the results back to you. Augmented reality will be used to project images onto the lenses of these glasses.

Social networks will also become more integrated with other digital components of our lives. They will be integrated with our calendars, address books, GPS,… So for example when you go to a meeting you can be presented with recent and relevant posts that the person you’re meeting made on Facebook.

There are a lot more technologies that are already used today that will become more important in the future. They will probably appear in a new and innovative way so they meet the standards of Smart Cities. Beside all of these existing technologies, new technologies are already being made.

Smart technologies in smart infrastructure creates smart building

To become a smart city, you need smart Technologies. Sensors and other meters are needed to collect and analyze data. Smart cities need to be able to check buildings, bridges, sea defenses and road and railway cuttings at the touch of a button. Engineers at Cambridge University are now developing technologies that will allow the conditions of these infrastructures to be monitored in unprecedented detail.

All the infrastructure, old and new, needs to be put under constant surveillance and this can be done with new technologies using wireless sensors and fiber optics. Strain, temperature, displacement, humidity or even a crack in the wall can be monitored. Researchers at the University are developing these technologies, called smart technologies, and they hope to bring them to the market by 2016. The University of Cambridge is working together for this project with industry and technology companies.

There already are a lot of sensor technologies, but they aren’t used routinely enough in infrastructure at the moment. The financial aspect of these technologies is also an issues at this point. Constant monitoring all the city’s infrastructure and maintaining it costs billions of pounds every year. So even a small improvement in efficiency can result in major savings.

Professor Robert Mair is the principal investigator of the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC). CSIC is an innovative and knowledge centre that’s involved in the University’s Department of Engineering, Department of Architecture, Computer Laboratory and Judge Business School. Mair said that the project on smart technologies they are working on now is hugely exciting and important.

Because most of the UK’s infrastructure is more than 100 years old, infrastructure owners feel the need to be involved in the emerging technologies in sensors and data management. They can use these technologies to quantify and define the extent of ageing and the consequent remaining design life of their infrastructure.

So these new technologies have a lot of advantages for old infrastructure, but they are also of use for new infrastructures since they can lead to more efficient and economic construction of new infrastructure. This is because engineers will be able to better understand how infrastructure is performing during and after construction. This will lead to more informed decision-making and an improved performance-based design and construction process.

One of the key objectives of the research at the Cambridge University is looking for a way to remove the need for batteries in sensors. A project of CSIC is looking at using micro-electrical mechanical systems in which miniature devices and circuitry can be etched onto a silicon chip as part of the sensors. So they could be able to include a very small turbine to harness the wind power produced by passing trains in the tunnel, making the system entirely self-sufficient. The same technology can be used on bridges by for example using the vibrations from passing vehicles.

Another key research for the IKC is optical-fiber monitoring. Cambridge engineers installed optical fibers around the inside of the old brick tunnel when a new tunnel was built beneath the century-old Thames link tunnel in London.  These fibers continuously measure the changing strains and temperature at every single point along the fiber. Previously, engineers has to use conventional survey techniques to analyze the impact of the new tunnel. Now they can use this new optical fiber technology to measure strain directly and continuously. 

In the future, incorporating optical fibers and sensors during the construction process will enable an unprecedented level of ‘cradle to grave’ analysis of how our infrastructure actually performs. Over-estimation now goes into the use of many components in buildings and structures to guarantee safety. In the future, better monitoring would allow construction firms to make more accurate judgments about how much materials to use. Construction firms should have it easier to insert sensors and optical fibers into walls, facades and beam by adding them to components in the factory before they reach the building site. This is what can be called ‘smart’ building.

£17m has been granted to CSIC to conduct the research. £10m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board and another £7 from the industry collaborators. Professor Mair hopes that the Centre will have advanced the technology and the business cases sufficiently by 2016 and he hopes that they will be able to support their future through industry collaboration alone.

Connected cities are needed to survive the urban growth

The UK government wants the UK to be the technology centre for Europe this year. But to achieve this, they will have to look at every part of their economy. One area that is being closely looked at lately is our cities. To drive growth, cities need to be more connected. These highly connected cities need to be driven by super-fast connectivity and they can help drive the British innovation over the next few years.

But if the UK wants highly connected cities in the future, they need to start planning things now. And they already have been thinking about this. An example is the Intel Collaborative Research Institute (ICRI) for Sustainable Connected Cities. ICRI is a joint effort between two of London’s top universities: University College and Imperial College London.

Social, economic and environmental challenges need to be tackled and it’s up to this new institute to investigate how technologies can help tackle these issues. They want London to become a ‘smart city lab’ and they want to create a blueprint for ‘connected cities’ in the UK.

So the researchers of this new institute will investigate some of the new intelligent technologies to use on our cities. An example is the network of sensors that can be used to quickly access data on trends for traffic, pollution and water supply. If they have all this data, they can analyze it to see how well the city is operating. Norway already has a centralized data platform like this called ‘CityData’.

A real-life application of this can be the traffic monitoring. Traffic congestions can be monitored and analyzed to develop smart transport timetabled and alerts. Councils could start to target areas to send more wardens, re-route traffic or provide warnings on mobile apps.

But this can only work when you have a huge amount of data at hand. So the right tools and bandwidth need to be in place first before you can start capturing and carrying these high volumes of information. When the connectivity isn’t restricted to just big businesses but to all of the city, innovation and growth can be stimulated and can flourish.

So using data more wisely is a very good new innovative approach to cities. London is already embracing this with as an example the London Gird for Learning (LGFL). All 33 London local authorities are involved in LGFL, and it’s making the most out of a dedicated public services network. It’s already providing schools with new technologies like e-learning tools such as video conferencing, virtual learning platforms and podcasts.

By 2050, there will be about nine billion people on this world, and most of them will be living in urban spaces. If cities don’t prepare systems to manage every aspect of the way a city operates, they will be challenged in all sorts of ways.  So cities need to start investing today in forward-thinking research and super-fast connectivity that will make the ‘connected cities’ reality.

Use of Smart technologies in packaging

There’s a trend going on to incorporate a wide variety of smart technologies into labels and packaging. An example of this is supermarket chain Marks & Spencer. Earlier this year they introduced a new packaging for their strawberry in the UK.  They started using their It’s Fresh! technology in the packaging which increases shelf life.

Eef de Ferrante, director of the recently launched Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association AIPIA, said that it seems that all sectors decided that the time is right to start looking into commercial applications for active and intelligent packaging.

AIPIA, the Dutch company that launched in February, already signed up over 40 blue chip companies from different sectors like the food sector, pharmaceutical and logistics industries. These companies want to drive new technologies out of R&D and into commercial use. AIPIA wants to have a look at the entire supply chain to develop standards, implementation processes and communication platforms which will link production, packaging and logistics to the retailer. Some of their member today include Bayer, Motorola,  Dow Performance Packaging, DSM, NXP and Avery Dennison RFID and also some logistics companies like UPS and retailers like Marks & Spencer.

De Ferrante said that AIPIA, together with their members, is now developing a wide range of intelligent technologies like RFID, Track & Trace, gas scavengers, sensors and more. Together with developments in nano-technology, NFC and mobile commerce, AIPIA now has the ability to bring all these technologies to a huge market.

One of the applications that AIPIA is offering is a mobile technology. Consumers can use their mobiles or smartphones  to communicate with products in supermarket shelves, and this is achieved through technologies on the packaging. Also applications like scanning products with your phone to get a discounts, join loyalty programs and go online to websites catalogues aren’t possibilities anymore, these applications have become reality. But to provide these hi-tech solutions, there is a need for a bread industry network, and AIPIA offers this network.

Amina AITai, founding partner and marketing director at brand innovation lab Immagemme, said that brands need to reevaluate their design process and how they engage with their consumers on packages. Up to now, communication through packaging with consumers has always been one-way and focused on product information. Now brands need to create a two-way dialogue using smart technologies. This is because consumers nowadays want to be involved in the brand, the want to co-create and they can start doing this virtually.

AITai predicts that NFC will become more important, especially RFID, which allows smart phones to engage with tags embedded in packaging. Consumers need to get  an authentic and controlled brand experience while in their local supermarket for example. QR codes were popular the last year but they have some shortcoming which RFID can answer to. For example they often need dedicated apps or they are ineffectively implemented.  With NFC technologies like RFID, consumers can access information faster and more seamlessly.

But the problem is that NFC tags are expensive. QR codes can just be printed on the labels or packages without a significant impact on the price, but more expense is added to the production process when you want to add tags on the package. AITai said that it will probably be a challenge to smoothly incorporate NFC into the design of packages. It’s up to the packaging designers to strike a balance between being on-brand while also being commercial enough for consumer to benefit from the added value of the NFC.

It’s important to realize that the look and feel of a package will always be important because our brains respond to visuals and colors before they decipher words. But this isn’t enough anymore. Modern consumers need an evolved experience, they need to be engaged in an on-going dialogue. So brands need to create an in-store brand experience and increase the brand communication. And one of the ways to do this is the NFC that was just discussed. It can be used to provide additional content and interactive ways to engage the consumer.

Madelyn Postman, from brand design agency Grain Creative, doesn’t believe that there is no future for QR codes. She said that labels and packages lend themselves to the use of QR codes and they provide an opportunity for consumers to engage. An intriguing application of QR codes are the virtual stores. Images of products are displayed on a screen and clients can scan a products QR code to purchase or reserve the item. Tesco created a virtual store at a train station in South Korea, UK retailer Argos ran a similar campaign at London’s Paddington station in the run up to Christmas 2011 and also Chicago will have its own virtual store soon. But it is true that it takes time to open the app needed to read the QR code and scan the code. And this might be one of the reasons that people are losing interest in QR codes.