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21 Apr 2011 03:04:34

1 city, 100 million sensors

1 city, 100 million sensors
By Farouk Balouchi, technology analyst, IDTechEx

Many of us have iPhones with a myriad of embedded sensors on them, allowing countless apps to be built on these sensory systems but crucially, many of these applications were never conceived when the device was put together. In many ways the PlanIT Valley project from the Living PlanIT team is very similar but instead of a few sensors there will be 100 million sensors deployed over 17 km2 – an area equivalent to Manhattan Island, New York City – to seamlessly embed and connect an entire city with wireless sensor networks. These sensors will bring about applications like the ones on our smart phones but sensing and predicting our every movement in a way that has never been done before. Unusually, the architects of this sustainable urbanisation project are not the traditional construction and real-estate types; these are computer people, looking at construction of cities through the lens of the software industry. Smart cities or green cities are being developed in many places around the world from New Sangdo in South Korea, Masdar in Abu Dhabi and Dongtan in China to help sustain a planet that has a population of well over 6 billion people living on it. With over half of that population moving to cities from the rural areas and 3 billion who will be born in cities by the year 2050, when the Earth is estimated to have a population of 8.9 billion, an increase of 47% in 4 decades.

In order to address these needs of a rapidly growing planet, Living PlanIT has developed three distinct areas of technology with one of the main pillars being a sensor network technology (SNT) which with new development in intelligent construction embeds sensor technologies in a way that delivers applied intelligence, better understanding and predicts future actions. The second is a modular construction approach called the Xtreme Construction (XTC) founded on a systematic approach used in software design. The third, an audacious urban operating system (UOS) which is fed information from an integrated sensor technology network connecting every function of the urban environment; data is combined and aggregated to produce information, which in turn is analysed and inspected to derive knowledge and insight to inform the UOS. This allows city management and optimises operations through the combination of distributed sensing and processing with central command and control.

Through the network of sensors and actuators placed in and around PlanIT Valley, imagine a situation where road construction or an accident may occur within the road network near the city. This situation may begin to cause congestion, which in turn may impede access to and from the city; it may also have some additional impact to local roads. The UOS knows the traffic patterns in and around the city and how they naturally vary according to time, season, and weather. This data would then be combined to create an accurate prediction of what will happen over the next hours, allowing the city traffic management systems – which run "on top" of the UOS – to mitigate the impact by adjusting routing algorithms and traffic controls, or by making more alternative transportation available.

Research and development at urban scale requires significant levels of qualified and supporting less-qualified labour; this is one of the reasons why the Living PlanIT project has chosen Portugal. Portugal offers a high level of education and location of universities in relation to the PlanIT Valley site (5 major universities within 90 km) with the largest in Portugal – University of Porto – less than 15 km away. In addition, there is a significant emphasis placed on knowledge development to support transition to a knowledge economy.

Paredes, a municipality close to Porto in Portugal, is the site of the PlanIT Valley project which has been received with enthusiasm at local, national and global levels and is recognized as a key smart city development by Forrester, Harvard Business School and many others. Portugal is a convenient location with short flight times for Europe and long haul destinations worldwide. It is accessible to both North America and the Far East – strategically located between the Americas, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia.

The idea is to replicate this model all over the world where the emerging market for new cities is evident, for example in China, India and Brazil. These innovative thinkers are set to revolutionise the way cities are perceived. The business model is an ecosystem of mainly technology companies. The partnership includes Siemens, Accenture and Oracle to name a few, with Cisco being one of the key partners. You can hear Thierry Marten talk as one of the keynote speakers about the challenges and the smart and connected community in PlanIT Valley 1.0 at the IDTechEx conference in Munich on energy harvesting and storage co-located with a conference about wireless sensor networks and RTLS. Thierry Marten is the executive vice president for PlanIT Sensing and also vice president at Cisco Advanced Systems.

Other speakers will include Ms Joy Weiss, president and CEO of Dust Networks, United States who will be talking on low power sensing and location systems based on wireless mesh networks and their time-synchronized, channel hopping TSCH. With examples of cases studies of these networks which have been successfully deployed in real world applications. Samsung SDS, Mr Sunghak Song, principal engineer Korea will speak about the challenges real-time locating systems (RTLS). Dr Thomas Kafka, field application engineer GE Energy Germany, who will be speaking on machine condition monitoring. Dr Sokwoo Rhee, co-founder and chief technology officer, Millennial Net, United States who will be giving a talk on dynamic mesh networks and the opportunities which arise to combine RFID and energy harvesting. These and around 50 other speakers will be presenting on a diverse subject area covering healthcare, body sensor networks, sports apparel, smart textiles and many more.

The conference is held in Munich on June 21–22, and will be the only event to feature the latest developments in this area. For more information please

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