The Influence of IoT on Infrastructure

Christian Jebsen, CEO of Kebony

iot1Rapid urban development over the past decade has led to the largest city populations in history, with more than half of the world now living in urban areas. While urbanization fosters economic activity for cities, it also creates environmental issues caused by increased carbon emissions and energy use. To compensate for their consumption, city officials and inhabitants are turning to key IoT technologies to form a networked physical world that will reshape the fundamental ways in which their cities operate. IoT solutions are prioritizing sustainability to combat the challenges of city growth by influencing the direction of urban infrastructure.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the network of devices or once-passive “things” that are connected to the Internet to increase data collection and value for users. IoT encompasses an ecosystem of technologies that provide better operational intelligence for users by allowing systems to be more proactive than reactive. With industry analysts expecting 50 billion connected devices to be in existence by the end of the decade, the IoT has already begun to influence every aspect of life for most people around the world. On a small scale, the IoT connects everyday devices such as mobile phones to cars, or tablets to televisions. On a larger scale, the IoT is used to operate factory floors and on an even larger scale to operate smarter, more sustainable cities.

Cities have used connected technology, such as the sensors that monitor traffic light use, to enhance urban mobility for years. With the emergence of IoT technology, they’ve continued to incorporate connected capabilities into their mass transportation systems on a broader scale. Buses and subways now alert passengers with arrival times using sensors and GPS. Parking systems also use sensors to communicate whether a space is occupied or available, which reduces the driver’s time spent circling through busy city streets. These dynamic systems reduce both congestion and carbon emissions.

In addition to mass transit, infrastructure is a focal point of IoT integration in major cities. After the collapse of several bridges in recent years, including the fatal collapse of the I-35 Bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, outdated inspection methods have become a growing concern for architects around the world and they’ve turned to connected sensors as a solution. Sensors have been installed on bridges across the United States to collect real-time performance data over an extended period of time, providing an accurate read of the bridge’s structural integrity. This access to timely data allows architects to anticipate structural deficiencies, prioritize remediation plans and allocate time and budgets to the most urgent sites first. These structural monitoring sensors have enhanced safety for drivers and pedestrians, and have changed the future of bridge restoration.

On a larger scope, cities have made great strides in educating both officials and residents about their sustainable strengths and weaknesses through city-wide data initiatives. These initiatives, including Intel’s Green Vision in San Jose and Chicago’s Array of Things, collect real-time block-to-block performance data on the city’s environment and activities with sensor boxes installed on lampposts throughout the city. These sensors collect information on a range of environmental factors from air quality to sidewalk foot traffic that is later analyzed by research institutions to enable officials to improve the city’s livability. Moreover, this information is available to residents to help them gauge those officials’ daily responses to city conditions.

The Internet of Things is also helping manage cities from within their built environments as well. Connected building control systems can now automate building processes for facility managers, reducing the time it would take to complete these processes manually. Using cloud-based IoT solutions, facility managers can collect data from various locations in the building in real-time and allocate resources to specific projects in a more timely manner.

Although collecting information about city activities is not a new concept, these initiatives organize data in a way that is easier to understand and use than past methods. Unfortunately, this also makes the information easy for potential hackers to understand and use. The security of data is one of the greatest threats to smart cities. When incorporating IoT solutions into critical infrastructure, governments must place as much importance on the privacy and security of their residents as they do on the sustainability of their city.

As connected devices continue to penetrate the complex infrastructure of the world’s growing cities, the potential to revolutionize city planning and management becomes increasingly evident. With a more responsive physical world, officials can create safer, more livable cities for residents while significantly reducing their environmental impact.

About the Author

Christian Jebsen is the CEO of Kebony, a sustainable alternative to tropical hardwood. Kebony’s technology permanently modifies sustainable softwoods species, so the resulting product performs to the level of a hardwood. Kebony is beautiful and long-lasting, having been used in several projects – from decking to marinas to cladding – around the world.

Photos: Joerg Beyer and Mark Lopez/Argonne National Laboratory

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