It’s often said that London isn’t a city but an aggregation of villages. That’s probably true of any metropolis, says Nick Booth. One of the beauties of optimum-sized towns like Brighton and San Francisco is they’re just big enough to be eclectic but small enough to tight.
Technology communities are much the same. We’re more of an Internet of Things than a cohesive collective – lots of nimby neighbourhoods of silo villages that often have their own way of doing things because they were built by different people.
Different systems for different utilities
Though there are some admirable pioneers – like Transport for London for example – there are different systems for waste water, electricity and gas. As happens in all cities. Each local council in London is made up of departments that can’t bring themselves to talk to each other. They dig up the roads in Kingston one month for a cycle lane, then dig up the cycle lane the month after for a heat pump system which will save less than a tenth of the energy spent on the disruption.
It’s the Smart Pavements I will feel sorry for. They only exist in Kansas but we could all be following along the road with them.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDoT) in the USA is an optimum-sized public authority with one of the world’s more futuristic transport divisions, fittingly named RoadX.
Kansas-based IoT specialist Integrated Roadways has been appointed to build a highway and pavement packed with sensors to detect all kinds of events. Its slabs include fibre-optic and wireless technology to constantly feed this intelligence back to HQ.
In winter it will begin testing the world’s first smart pavement in the notoriously dangerous Red Hill Pass, the half-mile stretch of road that was the scene of a horror crash that left a driver hanging by the road for five days.
A demonstration of the company’s slabs will be conducted this summer on Brighton Boulevard in Denver’s RiNo neighbourhood to make sure the fundamentals of the technology are sound.
Beyond accident detection
The long-term goals for smart pavement go beyond accident detection. In theory a portfolio of services – reporting on road conditions and traffic alerts – will help drivers in conventional cars and passengers in robot-driven cars.
Ideally, road technology will generate business from local haulage, property and insurance companies looking for the cost benefits that more intelligent road usage will bring them.
But insurance brokers and lorry drivers will only be able to minimise their various risks if all the respective systems that feed them can exchange details efficiently. If a rain cloud or a water main is about to burst, there are likely to be misunderstandings between the respective telemetry systems that would report on this.
We’re a long way from Kansas
“Be honest, most people think smart cities are municipal clean-up campaigns,” says James Wickes, CEO of Cloudview, which offers a surveillance service that could be one strand of the smart city offering. He seems to suggest that it’s best to offer a point system that works now and to let someone else knit it all together. “People want practicalities and are not worried about how they are delivered. Smart cities deliver mainly to local authorities, not to taxpayers,” says Wickes.
The public are still getting over smart motorways that deliver benefits to the authorities and not to users. “Once municipal authorities start to deliver services improved by technology rather than conveniences for themselves I’m sure smart cities will take off,” says Wickes.
The problem with the IoT is it’s the least standardised collective in the history of technology, with the highest need for integration, according to Dr Setrag Khoshafian, chief evangelist and IoT strategist at Pega Systems. Demand for integration is massive, but the supply is minimal. Which is great for Pega, because its business model is all about providing integration.
There are 450 vendors that claim to provide an IoT platform, says Khoshafian. The problem is that they all address the lower levels of the stack, and there’s not much payback in linking them together. As they say on traffic reports, the sheer weight of numbers makes this an impossible challenge.
Pega Systems offers a ‘no code’ model that it claims will help make integration of systems much easier because it automates much of the process of knitting codes and protocols together.
Which sounds like a fantastic business model. It’s a long way to Kansas though. There’s no place like homogeneity.
The author of this blog is Nick Booth, freelance IT and communications writer