Are 'smart cities' better cities? Vegas thinks so | Crain's

Are 'smart cities' better cities? Vegas thinks so

The internet of things is everywhere around you, from your car to your electronic toothbrush. But what does this rapidly advancing technology with ever increasing connected devices mean for the "smart city"?

Crain's Las Vegas spoke with Don Jacobson, the IT business partner for the city of Las Vegas, on ways in which the city is utilizing IoT to enhance city services, increase public safety, keep the public informed with real-time data, and design better roadways.

What is the internet of things?

The internet of things is anything that is connected to the internet. That could be a computer; that could be a sensor; that could be your phone; that could even be an item of clothing. We have environmental sensors, crowd safety sensors, parking sensors, and even sensors for trash bins.

What do these sensors do?

With an environmental sensor, for example, you can get data from that sensor and you can bring it to a central location and aggregate it with other data to take action on it. In the case of downtown Las Vegas, we can mash up environmental data with data about our traffic signals. From the environmental sensors we can tell what the carbon monoxide levels are, so if we have carbon monoxide building up we can look at changing the timing of the signal on the light to allow traffic to flow more freely and bring down the carbon monoxide levels.

How does IoT data allow for more situational awareness for the city to take action on things like deployment of resources and activation of traffic technology?

Previously if you wanted to know what pedestrian traffic was in an area, you would send a couple of people with clipboards to stand there for four hours and they would count people and maybe indicate what direction they're moving in, if they're lingering, and so on.

Now we can use sensors that not only count the people but can actually tell you about their movement and interactions, and so over time you get a picture of what's going on in an area.

The more data you have, the faster you have that data, and the more accurately and quickly you can assimilate that data intelligently, the more you can make good, evidence-based decisions on what you need to do either at that moment in time or in anticipation of an upcoming event.

That could mean knowing every Friday there are more people in a given area that might require more police presence or a roadblock. With data that you accumulate over time, you can see trends and anticipate things that are going to happen in the future and make decisions about how you're going to plan for the anticipated future event.

In what areas is Las Vegas implementing IoT the most?

In our Downtown Innovation District, we have connected corridors where traffic infrastructure can communicate with vehicles that are equipped with technology and vice versa. 

There is real-time data sharing going on not only vehicle-to-vehicle but also vehicle-to-infrastructure and that information is helpful to the car manufacturers, to the transportation department, and to police and fire to give an accurate picture of how traffic behaves, how it behaves with pedestrians and cyclists, and so on. The more we know about the behavior of the people who are behind the wheel or walking the streets or riding a bicycle, the better we can plan for safer outcomes.

In our Innovation District, we also have a fully autonomous shuttle operating on a public roadway. So this vehicle is able to navigate this area with a mix of the technology on board and the technology that's in the city infrastructure to ensure that the vehicle operates safely.

We've also partnered with Genivi to run experiments and pilots to develop the standards for connected car technology by putting their technology in vehicles in our Innovation District for things like speed limit warnings, crosswalk warning alerts, alerts for bus stops, and congestion.

We even have a connected bicycle pilot, which gives cyclists safer mobility options, alerting them to alternate roadways where dedicated bike lanes are available and so on.

How does location-based data allow for better decision making at the city level?

The better your data is in terms of quality and quantity as it relates to a particular area, the better you can visualize what's going on in that area. We're working with dashboards that can show that data to everyone from the mayor, who just wants that 10,000-foot overview, to the field supervisor, who wants that overview and specificity to their particular location.

What about decision-making that requires more immediate action?

Computing at the edge means that if you're going to have autonomous vehicles, for example, there are decisions that are going to need to be made at that location and not sent back to a central server and then the decision gets made and comes back. That decision has to be made at the edge or right at that particular location.

Our autonomous shuttle right now knows when the light is red or green and acts accordingly. But what happens if the light is out or flashing red? That decision-making needs to occur right there and not be sent to the cloud first. Even if you're talking milliseconds, that could pose a safety problem. So edge computing allows processing of information more quickly and accurately at a particular location.

How can the public make use of all of this data to make their own informed decisions about traveling in the city?

We get a lot of data upon which we make decisions but also the public wants to have information to make their own decisions — how much will parking cost, is there an event that will cause congestion in the area, etc.

We've coupled crowd-sourced information with information from our infrastructure, department of transportation infrastructure, and regional transportation infrastructure, so all of that data is all mashed together and given back to the public so that they can make the decisions they need to make just as we do. Those real-time citizen interactions are very important to us.

There is also information that we know that we can broadcast and notify the public that is interested in a particular thing, like public art or events. With beacon technology, we can alert you when you're in a certain area that there is public art right around the corner or an event happening nearby.

How does all of this data allow a "smart city" to become a better city?

All this information that we're gathering helps us with design. If you know that there is a problem on a particular street with traffic backing up and lots of collisions or near-collisions, it helps our planners when they design the roadways to design them differently to address the issues that we are made aware of through all of these sensors that we have out there.

April 17, 2018 - 2:44pm