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IoT in smart cities:
How IoT
applications
in smart cities
can benefit citizens

Author: Shane Schick

Connecting devices to the Internet of Things (IoT) has no doubt brought convenience to consumers' lives, but IoT applications in smart cities have the potential to transform the way citizen experiences are managed and delivered.

Municipalities have been strategically using technology to address a number of their challenges for years, but historically they may have been limited to running internal back-office systems. On the front end, they've relied on traditional digital channels, such as websites.

The use of IoT in smart cities opens up many more possibilities because it allows cities to deploy sensors on all kinds of objects and surfaces. By using analytics to study the data collected through those sensors, city managers can make decisions more quickly, get ahead of problems and make better use of the resources available to them.

The IoT in smart cities

Developing a plan that harnesses the IoT in smart cities allows municipalities to become true "smart cities," a term often defined as a local government whose effective use of data brings improvements to public infrastructure, utilities and other services citizens rely upon.

According to Navigant Research, 38 of the 50 largest U.S. cities have a smart city strategy in place today, with seven others beginning to scope out their plans.

Although IoT applications in smart cities can take many different forms, some of the most common use cases include the following:

Smart parking

One of the most perennial sources of frustration for those living in urban areas is finding room for their cars in busy municipal lots.

Smart parking addresses this by collecting and distributing data about what's available and what's occupied from sensors and/or cameras that are installed within the parking facility. Citizens could access this information through a mobile app as well as through digital signs that direct drives to available parking spots that the city could develop and offer.

Drivers could even be guided to a particular spot within a smart parking lot and be connected to payment systems rather than putting coins in a meter. This also provides city managers with helpful data about how often spaces are used in a particular region, how many are used within a specific lot and if there are peak moments at particular times of the day.

All of this can prove valuable as cities weigh decisions around expanding smart parking facilities, parking rate adjustment strategies based on peak demand or approving zoning applications from third parties.

Smart streetlights

Offering reliable and effective lighting on roadways, in parks and on residential streets is a critical element of keeping citizens safe. However, city management teams can find themselves scrambling to keep up with light bulbs that need to be changed, broken streetlights and day burners (street lights that stay on during the day). Rethinking street lighting can help reduce energy use, cut costs and address some safety concerns.

Installing sensors on streetlights is a way of using IoT applications in smart cities to help reduce street light management and maintenance costs. The data collected can point to trends and patterns around how often LED luminaire bulbs need to be replaced, for instance, and provides the ability to remotely control dimming to reduce energy usage and cost.

Rather than leave citizens waiting and wondering, the use of IoT in smart cities helps accelerate data collection from the various sensors embedded throughout the city and can help city managers be more transparent about sharing timelines for repair and maintenance through their websites or mobile apps.

Depending on how they're set up, smart streetlights can also serve other purposes, such as providing a wireless broadband connection point or by adding sensors that can analyze traffic speed and pedestrian safety conditions.

Smart waste management

Garbage pickup and disposal are among the most essential municipal services, but they can be costly to maintain and difficult to manage as efficiently as residents and businesses would like. Consider, for example, how just one garbage truck's route can create a traffic jam on a busy street.

Smart cities can analyze data from sensors deployed on roads and vehicles to optimize the best times and routes for their waste management teams. They can also use sensors on the trash cans themselves to ensure garbage is picked up before they become too full or the trucks are not needlessly routed to empty trash cans.

The same kinds of IoT applications in smart cities can guide citizens in whether items should be composted or recycled.

Smart water management

Cities need water to handle everything from sewer systems to what citizens use for cooking and drinking. Leveraging the IoT in smart cities for water management can give city managers a far more granular look at the state of the water supply chain and actions they may need to take.

Sensors could help detect water leaks and when chemicals have infiltrated a water system, for instance. Other data collected could pinpoint the quality of wastewater, as well as undue pressure being put upon pipes in the distribution pipeline.

This is another IoT in smart cities use case where municipalities could get alerts when machinery and equipment used to process and distribute water may need to be repaired or replaced.

These use cases are all just the beginning of IoT applications in smart cities. As municipalities become more well-versed in collecting and analyzing the data sensors put at their disposal, expect to see even more opportunities to improve city management and the citizen experience.

Learn more about IoT applications in smart cities and the technologies and expertise that help smart communities thrive.