As the world becomes more connected on and off the web, lawmakers are looking at how the Internet of Things — the concept that objects can be interconnected through embedded devices — can help solve problems and improve citizens’ lives. The White House recently issued the SmartAmerica Challenge, which aims to use the Internet of Things to connect everything from medical devices to utility sensors and, yes, even your automobile.
Transportation is a major focus of the SmartAmerica Challenge (along with emergency services, health care, security, energy conservation and manufacturing). The visionaries behind the program see communication as an important part of transportation in the future. That said, there is still some disagreement on what type of communication is needed.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of California, Berkeley, see smart roads as one solution to reducing traffic congestion. These roads use embedded sensors to manage traffic flow. If they sense traffic piling up, they start to automatically meter and reroute traffic, ultimately improving the driving experience for everyone.
Public roads aren’t the only challenge. The military has ideas for how the Internet of Things can improve national defense. The U.S. Army identified a unique opportunity to turn its behind-the-lines logistics trains into a automated force, and is currently developing an autonomous convoy concept for the SmartAmerica Challenge.
Cities across the country have also answered the White House’s call. San Jose is starting small, but has big plans for scaling up its Internet connectivity in the future.
The Silicon Valley hub, which partnered with Intel for the SmartAmerica Challenge, kicked things off by installing air quality, sound and traffic sensors in strategic areas across the city. These sensors are designed to monitor the quality of the air, noise pollution and traffic flow throughout San Jose, and identify problem areas for the city government. The sensors are wirelessly connected to central servers, which rapidly process the data for city officials to analyze.
“There are many facets of creating sustainable and livable cities of the future,” says Ton Steenman, VP of Intel’s Internet of Things Group. He says sensors on water systems can help accurately identify expensive water leaks and monitor usage. Building smarter infrastructure to control things like energy and material usage can help a city’s long-term growth and viability. Traffic sensors can help with parking and congestion.
Since congestion is one of the biggest pain points in major cities around the country, companies participating in the challenge are beginning to look at ways to help get cars off the road and ease traffic obstruction.
According to Intel’s Internet of Things Group, 35 percent of all traffic congestion in San Francisco is due to lack of parking. One solution to parking problems could be using sensors embedded in the road to talk to a driver’s car to help find an empty spot near their destination, while simultaneously reducing congestion throughout the city.
Another possible solution for overcrowding is to harness existing security cameras to study driving patterns. Not only could these cameras help city planners learn more about traffic management and parking, but they could also reduce congestion and pollution by helping truck companies route their big rigs around a city’s problem areas.
With cities like San Jose embarking on the SmartAmerica Challenge, we’re reaching the dawn of a new age. Technology might soon allow our cities to communicate directly with us, making them an even better place to live — and drive — in the future.