Sensors Dot the Cityscape

State and local governments tap self-organizing wireless sensor networks (WSNs) for everything from monitoring bridges for stress and cracks in Boston to detecting wildlife near busy highways and warning drivers in Colorado.

“In many cases, local governments are the early adopters for this technology,” says Mareca Hatler, director of research and senior market analyst for ON World, a market research firm dedicated to emerging wireless markets. Public safety, parking management and environmental controls are some of the most common applications for WSNs in government settings.

Energy management is the leading application overall, but mostly in the private sector. In the public sector, utilities are adopting smart meters and even smart home networks, which allow them to shut off nonessential appliances such as air conditioners when the power grid is overburdened. Consumers and businesses are typically rewarded with credits on their utility bills — and with fewer rolling brownouts or blackouts — for participating in these programs.

Cities are also adopting energy management strategies as part of an emerging “smart cities” trend, according to ON World. Green buildings, the tracking of public safety employees, street light monitoring, traffic light monitoring and parking enforcement are all being handled via WSNs. As the technology matures and as some of these applications move from the proprietary realm to the Internet, expect citizens to start playing a role, helping to make smart cities even smarter.

Is that traffic light on your corner staying red too long when no cars are on the side street? Is the street light outside of your apartment coming on before sundown? Is the parking meter you just fed quarters into broken? Soon, you may be able to log into a website and report that information, saving yourself time and your city money.

Mar 10 2009