Smart City 1.8: Smart Grid & Apps

Google-Project-loon2“The Internet of Things will augment your brain.”- Eric Schmidt, Google 

One of the things that holds back progress toward a Smart City is the network infrastructure. Bandwidth is not increasing as the same rate as data usage. This means that within a few years, unless we upgrade our bandwidth and change the way we provide those networks, we’ll effectively have a traffic jam on the network that will degrade the entire technology behind a Smart City.

This problem demands a unique solution which is where the concept of a Smart Grid arises, along with keeping internet content local to the City, and utilising a high-speed city network with the Community Cloud at the core.

The issue we have is the way that the Internet is constructed and managed. Each resident has a connection to a local exchange, which has a connection to a larger exchange, which has a connection to a national backbone, which then connects to an international backbone. The internet service providers, telecommunication companies for the most part, then manage it according to a series of rules that maximise their profit. They are not interested in the end user other than as a money resource. The do that by constraining the bandwidth and how much data you can utilise each month. As an example of the impending issue, consider the rise of online movie downloads to your television.

The average internet connection in New Zealand means that the time to download an HD movie today is about eight hours and will use about 20% of your monthly allowance. Ultra-fast-broadband (UFB) or VDSL (hi-speed copper) reduces this to between ten and twenty minutes.

Here’s the problem, by the end of the year we will see the rise of “super HD” movies, which will take another year or so to penetrate the market. Even with high-speed broadband, the time to download is suddenly back up at around five hours and if you are still on the old network, nearly three weeks.

The point is, the network is not growing quick enough to meet demand.

We’ll come back to the network a bit later, let’s now consider what kind of smart applications we want to see in our Smart City.

When you get out of bed in the morning along with the regular news and local radio your smartphone will offer advice on when, exactly, the best time is to travel to work (if you commute via car) and the best route to take. This will be determined by the myriad of sensors on the roads and other information taken from commuters with their own smartphones, it will also take into account the day of the week, the weather, any accidents or road works, public transport monitoring, taxi movements, and other data about the transport network.

For the bus and train users the smartphone will again advise the best time to leave the house to walk to your stop, based on previous travel, in order to meet the bus as you arrive. Based on your preferences you can choose a bus service that usually is less congested, or a higher paying fare service that gives you free Wi-Fi and an express service into the CBD.

As you walk to the bus you notice that a sewer grate is missing on the main road. You begin to log the fault into your City App and see that it has already been reported with it likely to be fixed today.

Once at the bus your smartphone will automatically log you on and deduct the money from your account giving you an ETA on your arrival.

The high speed wireless on the bus allows you to connect to the local Community Cloud and you read through the local community news for your suburb. You participate in an online consultation with some of your neighbours and your local Councilor about whether or not speed bumps need to be put in on a road that is notorious for speeding. You can access all the statistics and one of the road engineers is available to answer questions.

You can see that the Mayor is due to visit the local café one night next week for an open Q&A and automatically put a reminder into your smartphone calendar with the details.

The bus driver advises that due to a nose to tail, reported through the public transport network, that the express will be taking a different route and your smartphone updates your ETA. You email work to let them know you are running five minutes late.

You’ve got an old washing machine you want to get rid of so post the details on the local Community Website with contact details.

While this may seem somewhat like science fiction, the reality is that these exist already and over a reasonably short period of time, could be deployed.

“Smart city applications could have the following 7 elements:  

Sensible – sensors sensing the environment 
Connectable – A networking devices bring the sensing information to the web; 
Accessible – The broader information of our environment is published on the web, and accessible to the user (web);
Ubiquitous – The user can get access to the information thought web, but more importantly in mobile any time, any place (mobile); 
Sociable – The user can publish the information though his social network 
Sharable – The object itself must be accessible and addressable (not just the data) in a true peer to peer networked manner. 
Visible/augmented – To retrofit the physical environment, make the hidden information seen not only through mobile device by individual but seen in naked eyes in more border range of the physical places like street signs.” – Apps for Smart Cities Manifesto 

There are three key elements to make this work.

The first is the Community Cloud with open, readable, transparent, real-time and historical data. For example, traditionally traffic data is supplied to the Council proper, but not necessarily the public (not easily anyway). Making that data public gives developers of smart applications something to work with. Likewise, access to the city’s call center or service desk. This would allow developers to see data on all the calls that go to Council, stripping data to ensure privacy, as an aggregated set.

The Community Cloud needs to be locally based, within city limits, for three reasons. It allows us to access it via a Smart Grid (I’m getting to it), ensures that the latency is very low (how long it takes to access it), and keeps it off the national and international backbone (which is becoming increasingly expensive and congested).

We need to build a Smart Grid that gives us alternate access to the telecommunication’s companies managed network. This can be achieved organically over time. Starting with free, high-speed, high-quality Wi-Fi access in the CBD that unlocks us from the local Telco managed network. This is important for a variety of reasons that I have already discussed, however the most important point is that it de-couples our  reliance on a managed corporate network (of sorts) and allows anyone to access it anytime with any device that has wireless ability.

That means that the cost of accessing our local Community Cloud and its services it’s significantly reduced. Further, as the wireless network is stretched over time across the city, the uptake increases and lower socio-economic areas also gain level access to the network.

The wireless Smart Grid will also cater for the thousands and thousands of sensors that are slowly deployed around the city over time. These sensors relay back traffic information, incident information, weather information, and so on in real-time to the Community Cloud. Without wireless, the cost of getting that data back is likely to be prohibitive given it will require a cellphone internet connection. Also, it will be slower.

The wireless network is also expanded out to individual smartphones and home wireless networks through choice.

Various applications are being deployed in densely populated cities overseas that allow the resident to share a percentage of their wireless network either from phone, or home.

This means that each person who is subscribed effectively becomes a small, free, wireless provider. Your internet traffic is routed to people who are close to you, using the same service. This allow for further expansion of the Smart Grid. Walking wireless.

Further expanding the wireless network we can keep an eye on new technology such as spray on wireless. Literally, wireless in a can. You spray a surface, such as a wall or power pole, affix a solar powered wireless device, and it automatically connects itself into the Smart Grid as another wireless provider. This technology exists now.

In the future, the use of ubiquitous access to wireless via free-roaming services such as Google’s Project Loon, whereby high altitude balloons provide wireless over vast geographic locations, will further enhance the Smart Grid.

In order to deploy smart applications and services with our Cloud Community engine at the back end, we must have a Smart Grid.

“Cloud computing can be understood as the magic behind what the phones can actually do,” he said. “This is the stuff of science fiction, I’m thinking ‘oh my god we can actually do this.’” – Eric Schmidt, Google 

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