Can we make our cities better places to live by harnessing the power of big data? That was the question posed by Skip Newberry, president of the Technology Association of Oregon, when he introduced the latest FutureTalk at New Relic’s Portland offices. Titled “The Internet of Things, Big Data, and Smart Cities,” the presentation focused on Portland’s contribution to the Global City Teams (GCT) Challenge. But the subject had far-reaching implications.
The GCT Challenge was set in motion by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The goal? To facilitate private-public partnerships using Internet of Things (IoT) deployments with “smart city” potential. Covering healthcare, emergency response, disaster preparedness, utilities, security, and more, the various explorations already underway are innovative, exciting, and potentially game-changing.
Compute your commute
According to guest speaker Wilfred Pinfold, director of research and advanced technology development at Intel, NIST hopes that IoT can have the same impact over its first two decades as the Internet did—a 3% rise in GDP. How? By leveraging big data to increase efficiency.
In the United States, 30% of the energy used in commercial and industrial buildings is wasted—that’s around $60 billion annually. And a staggering $850 billion is squandered each year through under- and overstocked shelves in stores. By deploying intelligent sensors and interpreting in real time the data they collect, this kind of waste could soon be a thing of the past.
A longtime resident of Portland, Wilf introduced the city’s own GCT Challenge project. “Connected, Intelligent Transit” aims to leverage sensors in the traffic-heavy Powell Corridor. The data collected by these sensors has the potential to offer real-time decision-influencing information to commuters, as well as long-term behavioral insights that the City of Portland can use to better manage traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.
Imagine computer-controlled traffic lights that adjust their patterns according to flow. Or real-time air quality data that helps you decide not just whether it’s a good day to bike to work, but which route will have you breathing the cleanest air. For these kinds of capabilities, it’s a matter of “when,” not “if.”
Building tomorrow’s infrastructure
Data is a tool. Without actionable insight, it’s just a bunch of numbers. That was the message from the evening’s third speaker, Seabourne CEO Mike Reich, who stepped up to talk about the technological challenges of collecting, interpreting, and using big data for smart-city purposes.
As the search for the “killer app” continues, it’s crucial to think about how different groups will access and translate the available urban data, Mike said. Also, how different kinds of data (historical, real-time, and social/contextual) can be integrated, processed, and consumed. Building computer interfaces that are simple, clear, and elegant is essential to making the data useful to everyone, from local residents to academics, city planners to government workers.
Right now, with IoT in its infancy, programs like the GCT Challenge emphasize thinking through questions of infrastructure and standardization—putting hardware and partnerships in place so that developers can get busy creating exciting new ways to make big data useful in everyday city life.
To learn more about the race to develop innovative methods of urban data collection and visualization—to make cities smarter by inspiring policy shifts and fostering behavioral change worldwide—watch the full FutureTalk presentation below:
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