Urban Exploration in Smart Cities

What is a Smart City?

Smart Cities are built up from a variety of integrated technologies which work together to improve resource management and citizen satisfaction. They are characterized by the ubiquity of communication technologies which gather data from water reservoirs, weather stations, parking lots, department stores, city records, citizen’s mobiles, transit lines, etc. This data is centralized, analyzed, and applied to real-life solutions which assure future viability and prosperity in metropolitan areas.

Smart Buildings

One feature of Smart Cities are Smart Buildings which sustain constant calculations based on heating, lighting, and humidity levels coupled with sensors which monitor the opening and closing of doors and heatmaps of foot traffic to optimize energy efficiency and the comfort of those within the building. These types of buildings saw their initial heydey primarily within the public service sector. Your city’s library, hospitals, and community centers are likely already utilizing sensor and beacon technology to inform building management decisions. Your local library, for example, may already be monitoring foot-traffic and only lighting aisles which are currently in use, thereby decreasing their carbon footprint and saving on electricity.

Smart Places of Interest (SPOI)

As the public and private sector continue to update buildings with sensors and real-time communication beacons, people no longer visit ordinary places, but rather Smart Places of Interest (SPOI). These SPOI are geo-referenced locations where citizens may carry out specific activities. SPOI beacons provide real-time information to passers-by concerning their building’s type and use, the number of floors, its business hours, long term marketing campaigns, and product information. This information is static and can be written into a building’s broadcasting packet data. Dynamic data, such as building temperature, humidity values, daily discounts, and seasonal menus, may also be relayed to nearby mobile phone holders via Bluetooth LE – which comes standards on all current and future smartphones.

Boston’s Building Intelligence System

All the static data which has been mentioned can be used and used again by all city departments. One case in point is Boston. The city boasts a team of analysts , data scientists, and visualization experts called the Boston Citywide Analytics Team which manages city services. The team coordinates 16, 000 employees across 42 departments – opening up all city data for common use. Boston’s Fire Department accesses static SPOI data in the event of a fire. When a fire is reported, dispatchers enter the address of the fire into a program called the Building Intelligence system which pulls up information on the type of building, its layout, and the availability of hydrants. By connecting the Building Intelligence System with real-time data on foot traffic, building sweeps can take place faster and more efficiently.

Bluetooth Low Energy: Data Sharing Efficiency

There is a huge energy requirement which comes from needing to constantly update metadata. The devices which most people  use to access SPOI data are everyday smartphones which are characterized by limited storage and calculation capacity. The database of SPOI information for a whole city would be far too large to download for offline use. In addition, since building data updates in real-time, users cannot rely on a historical database to inform their trip throughout the city. This necessitates real-time data sharing.This is why Bluetooth Low Energy will have such a critical role to play in the development of smart cities. Beacons convey information based on proximity on a ‘need to know’ basis. Someone walking their dog in the North end of the city does not need to know that a pair of blue loafers are on sale in a boutique shop in the East end. Bluetooth beacons convey information to based on proximity to passersby and also inform a SPOI’s metadata by logging foot traffic. When it comes to urban exploration, there is an issue with using medium-range Bluetooth Beacons: anything beyond 100-200 meters is in a user’s blind spot. Cities need a method to encourage urban exploration by presenting SPOI data to users over large swaths of a city without loading data from the entire city map. 

The solution is relatively simple thanks to Bluetooth’s data sharing capabilities – load small sections of a map at a time in real-time by taking advantage of social interactions between users.

Keeping Google Up-to-Date

This is how it works: As data collects in a mobile device, a user leaves behind the buildings they are familiar with and enters new streets and neighborhoods. At first, the new street is within the user’s blind spot – until the user comes within range of another person leaving the same street. The devices recognize each other, connect for a split second, and share their accumulated knowledge. This sharing process is a collaborative social mechanism which keeps information circulating in real-time throughout a city. User’s opt-in to information sharing by downloading and enabling a city’s application to their mobile. The transfer is secure thanks to encryption.This real-time information does not need to sit idle – the collection of up-to-date SPOI metadata can act as geospacial data collection to keep servers like Google maps and OSM updated. City applications can be configured to periodically update central servers over WiFi.

The Democratization of Data

Smart Cities leverage electronic data collection sensors to manage systems, assets, and resources efficiently. Data is pooled from citizens, devices, and assets to be analyzed to improve transit systems, water supply networks, waste management, data systems, law enforcement, and community services such as schools, libraries, and hospitals. With low-energy Bluetooth, citizens can act as citizen data collectors, providing a critical service for their city, while benefiting from a wide range of quality of life improvements.

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