By Eliza Booth,

A wave of new innovations is enabling government leaders to implement “smart city” technology to improve services to their citizens, increase energy efficiency, and save money. Councils are using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and improved network traffic, energy, air quality, mobility, public infrastructure assets, and more.

All that data is being enhanced and optimised with powerful location intelligence and  management tools such as Confirm Asset Management. The net result is cost efficiency, and improved services.

Parking, public transportation and streetlights

It can be difficult to find a parking space in Barcelona, Spain. However, thanks to a network of smart sensors, information about available parking spaces is made available in real-time to drivers throughout the city. By directing residents to an open parking spot, the city is reducing traffic and pollution while saving its residents time.

Users of public transportation benefit from smart city technology as well. Sensors aboard city buses, for example, can detect whether a bus is ahead of schedule, behind schedule, or right on time. Armed with this information, many cities are providing notifications to users of public transportation, informing them of predicted arrival and departure times.

Some cities are even taking this a step further. If a bus is slightly ahead of schedule, for example, the timing of traffic lights can be adjusted slightly so that the bus is not compelled to sit idle at the next bus stop. 

In London and Quebec, energy-efficient smart streetlights are serving multiple purposes. Sensors detect the presence of pedestrians or vehicles, and the lights are dimmed or turned off when not needed. This feature alone can save as much as 30 per cent on energy costs. 

Smart streetlights are helping in other ways as well. They function as Wi-Fi hotspots and feature charging outlets for mobile phones and even electric vehicles. Surveillance cameras installed alongside the streetlights safeguard the community against crime. Some even have air quality sensors, providing valuable environmental data for city officials.

Smart waste management

While the examples cited above are easy to understand and resonate with a broad audience, there are plenty of other use cases that perhaps seem less cool, but which nevertheless have very real benefits for communities.

Many of us take for granted that when we toss a used coffee cup into a rubbish bin, someone will eventually turn up to empty the bin and take it away. Historically, that kind of service has been provided based on routinely scheduled operations. In other words, we can make a pretty good guess, based on history, as to when that rubbish bin will need to be emptied.

Logistically, there are several inefficiencies here. For one thing, a rubbish bin along the main thoroughfare might fill up much faster than one that is stationed only a block away.

This means that a rubbish truck may end up spending a good deal of its time servicing bins that are less than half-full.

The core problem, though, is that without smart technology, we really don’t know when any of the rubbish bins need to be emptied. If we add sensor technology and connectivity, we can have a real-time view of the city’s waste management needs. We can allocate resources where they are needed and when they are needed, rather than making a best guess about the situation. That saves time and money. With fewer rubbish collection vehicles on the road, it also reduces traffic congestion.

Bike-stands, trees and parking meters

When we start to drill down into all the various assets that are managed and serviced by governments and councils, public asset management begins to look like a daunting task. 

Technology can rein in that complexity. Many of the larger cities throughout the world have implemented bicycle sharing programs centered around public bike-docking kiosks. When someone rents or borrows a bicycle, those kiosks can detect how many bikes are available and share that information to mobile phone users throughout the city. Sensors installed on each bicycle can communicate maintenance requirements to city officials so that units can be efficiently and promptly repaired and put back in service. 

The same principles can be applied to virtually any public asset. Parking meters, for example, will stop producing revenue when they are out of service. By establishing two-way communication between devices such as parking meters and a central asset management system, city officials can be notified promptly of a needed repair and can use mobile technology to deploy maintenance crews in the area to fix the problem.

Trees also require regular maintenance. While it may not make sense to install IoT sensors in the city’s trees, the fundamental need for systems to manage scheduled maintenance remains.

By enabling the smart allocation of resources around maintenance tasks of any kind, local governments increase efficiency and save money.

How the City of Sydney uses infrastructure asset management technology

Sustainable Sydney 2030, a collective vision for “a green, global and connected Sydney” outlines the City of Sydney’s ambitious environmental, economic, social and cultural goals. It is based on a deep commitment to environmental leadership, high levels of service and quality facilities for the residents, businesses and visitors to one of the world’s most livable cities.

To help realise this vision and comply with legislative mandates, the city must be able to manage the lifecycle of AU$12.7 billion worth of infrastructure assets. 

The City of Sydney selected the Confirm Asset Management platform to manage its wide range of assets and to deliver a mobile solution for the field-based asset managers and inspectors. 

Compounding benefits with location intelligence

All these connected technologies result in a high volume of information that was never available before. Consider what happens when we begin to combine that with some of the other location-based data available to city managers.

If we return to our bicycle sharing example, we might discover some interesting new possibilities. Let’s assume, for instance, that routine use of the bike-sharing service for one-way trips results in a surplus of bicycles in the waterfront area of the city. As a result, city workers must routinely pick up bikes from the waterfront, load them into a truck, and return them to kiosks in the downtown area. That’s a lot of work, and it costs money.

What if city managers were to analyse mobility data to understand where people are at various times of the day? What if they used that data to establish a schedule of incentive pricing for one-way bike trips back to downtown? To take this example a step further, program managers could use mobility services to promote the new incentive pricing to pedestrians who frequent the waterfront area.

The net result will be a win-win; more residents will benefit from using a community resource, and the city will save money in the process. When you consider the volume of data available through smart city technologies and combine that with external location data, a wealth of new opportunities emerges.