With IoT technologies getting more and more refined, interest in the creation of ‘smart cities’ – where practically all important activities are digitally monitored and everything is connected – is in overdrive. It is expected that the worldwide smart cities market will keep growing at a CAGR of close to 20% over the next decade or so – jumping up to $1 trillion by 2019, and a stunning $3.49 trillion by 2026 (the market size, at present, is a tick over $621 billion). Semtech’s LoRa technology, along with 5G cellular connectivity and LiFi (light fidelity), are driving this global digital revolution – with LoRa being recently adapted as the IoT network in Australia and New Zealand. Over here, we will deliberate on a few interesting adaptations of the LoRa technology in smart cities:
Traffic lights management
Traffic lights, monitored from control rooms, are critical for ensuring a smooth, safe flow of traffic round the clock. Strategically placed devices with LoRa sensors can detect lights that are not functioning correctly and/or have blown fuses. In addition, a LoRaWAN tool can also send real-time notifications to municipal authorities – as and when changes/repairs in a traffic light stand are required. With properly implemented LoRa IoT support, traffic in smart cities will be expertly managed on a 24×7 basis, with minimal chances of congestions or accidents.
The much-hyped Apple Car won’t make an appearance any time before 2019 – but LoRa technology will steadily pave the way for driverless cars in smart cities over the next half a decade or so. These ‘autonomous vehicles’ will be able to commute on their own, picking up rides and completing deliveries. The sensors would also help in the integration of robust anti-theft features in these self-driving smart cars. The vehicles can also double up as shuttle cabs for daily commuters. Everything will be remotely manageable by the car owners.
Smart water meters
From the USA and the UK, to India, Nepal and Bangladesh – every country is likely to witness worrying declines in their overall per capita water availability levels. The steady increase in human footprint over the ecology is the direct reason for this, and recent researches have found that – in many cities, 10%-15% of the total water reserves is lost due to faulty, outdated infrastructure. Sensors/devices with the long-range LoRa chips can tackle this problem, by detecting leakages and overflows, and notifying the authorities about the necessary repairs. Management of such smart water meters and leak detectors typically require low levels of data transmission over long distances – making LoRa the ideal IoT technology for building them.
In a bid to cut down on energy wastages, greenhouse gas emissions and, of course, expenses – the authorities are placing LED bulbs in streetlights. LoRa technology can be utilized for the management of these smart public lighting networks. The lights will be regularly checked, and whenever a bulb change is required, the authorities are going to be informed about the same. In addition, smart lights powered by LPWAN can enhance safety considerations as well – by relaying information/scenes of road accidents/roadblocks to nearby locations. To cover an entire city, only a few transceivers and base stations will be required.
In a truly smart city, drones can be put to multifarious uses. Armed with LoRa chips, these drones can capture high-definition aerial photographs, help in precision farming, bolster the law enforcement systems, and even help in fire protection. According to experts from the field of IoT software development, drones can be used to deliver packages as well (this is likely to be a thing in the foreseeable future). By 2025, several cities will have drones functioning for public utility as well as commercial purposes.
The number of on-road vehicles in posh city areas is increasing all the time – and public parking areas cannot possibly keep up pace with this growth. It has been found that over 40% of total traffic congestions in cities are caused by drivers looking for safe, convenient parking spaces. High-range, low-power sensors can go a long way in tackling this issue – by ensuring optimal utilization of municipal parking lots and areas. App developers can also come up with new-age mobile applications that notify users about available parking spot(s) nearby.
Energy and pollution meters
Contrary to doomsday critics, technical advancements in cities need not come at the expense of rapidly rising environmental pollution. LoRa tools can play its part in maintaining the ecological balance – with smartly placed sensors informing the concerned officials about the pollution metrics in the locality. In the vicinity of power plants and heavy industries, these devices can track the overall consumption/wastage of environmental energy as well. With proper implementation of IoT, a city can be smarter, cleaner AND greener!
Waste bin management
Using resources to clean up a half-filled waste bin is unnecessary – particularly so when other bins in the city might be overflowing. When it comes to proper waste management, most cities do not have a detailed, digitized structure – and Semtech’s LoRa can help out in this regard. Smart ‘fill-level sensors’ can be fitted in public waste bins – which would detect when the bins are full and need to be emptied. What’s more, these sensors can also collect data on the type of waste being disposed off by the public.
Construction and predictive maintenance
City authorities across the world are struggling to preserve the age-old historical monuments and artifacts. Instances of bridge collapses and building damages are not uncommon either. It is also important to constantly track the quality and status of ongoing constructions – to avoid potential hazards in future. Specialized smart devices with LoRa chipsets can offer predictive maintenance solutions, by monitoring vibrations and other key parameters of buildings/bridges/monuments. As and when a damage is detected, the city authorities will be informed about the same. That, in turn, would ensure that disasters are always kept at an arm’s length.
Note: For integration of smoke alarm systems of buildings, remote opening/closing of doors and windows, and managing the temperature, LoRa technology can be extensively used.
10. Smart freight and inventory management
LoRa-powered sensors can be a handy addition in smart inventory systems (i.e., in the freight trucks and the ports between which they carry the inventory). The sensors would relay regular, updated information on the location of the freight vehicles and the status of the inventories. What’s more, these high-range sensors can also notify the operators as and when running repairs and other maintenance work have to be done on the freight vehicles.
11. Body camera systems
City officials, at any time, might need to know about the communication that takes place between the public law enforcers (traffic police, coast guards, etc) and the general public. Unfortunately, these records are often not available. There is an opportunity to resolve this problem, by designing smart body cameras (with LoRa sensor chips) and fitting them on to the uniforms of the concerned duty officers. These cameras will provide clear, impartial evidence about all conversations with the public that take place during a day.
12. Fire detection systems and alarms
There are certain locations in any city – like areas with dense vegetation, parks, amusement zones, etc – that are more prone to fire hazards. Placing fire alarms and sensors powered by LoRa technology in such areas makes a lot of sense, from the safety perspective. In case of any emergency, notifications can be swiftly sent to the local fire departments – to provide relief and limit the extent of damages. Alarms can also be triggered by smokes emanating from buildings nearby.
13. Integration with wearable devices
For it to be of practical value, the IoT ecosystems in smart cities have to be closely-knit. The popularity of wearable devices is at an all-time high – with smartwatches, predictably, leading the way. In the US, around 49% people interact with their wearable(s) at least once everyday. In future, smart wearables can come with built-in LoRa detectors and communicators, making it easy for individuals to take an active part in the smart environment and activities/interactions around themselves. The concept of a smart city involves all its residents – and LoRa with wearable technology can be a key driver in that domain.
14. Solar panel maintenance/upgradation
Advanced, smart cities need to take full advantage of renewable, alternative sources of energy (considering that the global coal reserves have started going down at an alarming rate). Solar energy, of course, is one of the best alternative energy sources – and solar panels are set up to tap and utilize this power. LoRa can come into use over here as well – for detecting whether the solar panels are working optimally and if there has been any breakdowns. Apart from maintenance, the sensors can also make real-time transmissions of the energy captured by the solar panel units.
15. Round-the-clock surveillance
LoRa technology has the potential to give the regulatory authorities a 360-degree overview of cities. Experts advocate the use of high-end surveillance cameras with smart, high-range sensors – to track all possible cases of law violation, unauthorized access into restricted areas, personal safety and protection of belongings. Surveillance cameras with LoRa will, in particular, be extremely useful for ‘virtually manning’ remote places.
To qualify as a ‘smart city’, a place has to be habitable, be high on the sustainability front, and have timely, dependable digital solutions to support all major public activities and utilities. LPWAN tools in general, and the LoRa technology in particular, have enormous opportunities for implementation in such ‘connected ecosystems’ – thanks to their excellent coverage (10-15 kms) and battery performance (~10 years). In the US, several cities – like Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago and Charlotte – are already on the IoT bandwagon for public services, Taiwan picked LoRa as its IoT network last August, and the LoRa protocols are functional in multiple Indian cities. The world is becoming increasingly ‘connected’ – and LoRa is right at the forefront of this revolution!
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