The Internet of Things Drives Smart Transportation Projects

Cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., are getting smarter as connected sensors provide timely and accurate traffic and parking data.

From smart TVs and gaming consoles to connected appliances and environmental controls, the Internet of Things (IoT) has permeated everyday living. But the IoT is hardly limited to the home — the technology can also give city, county and state governments deeper insights into their use of infrastructure and services.

One of the largest upcoming IoT projects is found in Chicago, where the Array of Things (AoT) will monitor pollution and vibration levels via Honeywell and Texas Instruments sensors attached to streetlights.

At its intended scale of 500 citywide nodes, the partnership between Chicago, the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory will constitute “the biggest network of sensors we know about,” says Rob Mitchum, communications manager for the University of Chicago’s Computation Institute.

The AoT will also transcend the city’s older, often unconnected sensors, says Brenna Berman, commissioner and CIO of the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology.

“Publishing the data to the city's open-data portal will occur in almost real time,” she says. “Any department in the city will tell you that more precise data will lead to more precise planning.”

Chicago has the advantage of university and government grants, some pending, to cover AoT deployment. Its operating costs: about a notebook’s worth of electricity per node.

While funding isn’t an issue, privacy concerns remain. To address those, Chicago and its partners are open-sourcing the AoT’s code and design and have promised to operate in full transparency.

Ruthbea Clarke, director of IDC’s Smart Cities Strategies program, calls the AoT a good example of IoT utility, especially because the partners behind it have different experience levels.

“Not only can the cities not do it by themselves, the vendors can’t do it by themselves,” she says.

Moving to Smarter Parking in Cities 

A similar IoT project in Washington, D.C., aims to ease the urban annoyance of parking.

The District Department of Transportation’s ParkDC project in downtown’s Penn Quarter and Chinatown neighborhoods yields real-time data on open curbside parking spaces and helps ensure parking availability by raising or lowering parking rates based on demand.

“The whole idea behind ParkDC is to make the process easier for the customer,” says Soumya Dey, director of research and technology transfer at DDOT.

Other cities have attempted similar projects, but Dey says DDOT’s “asset-light approach” trims costs.

Instead of planting vehicle sensors in every space (as San Francisco did in its SFpark pilot), DDOT combines data from fewer sensors with usage reports from networked meters and mobile cameras to estimate block-level availability.

Along the way, the District will have to overcome people’s willingness to drive around the block to find a free or cheaper space.

“Where we’re talking about building a more robust data collection effort, we’re going to enable a more robust market,” said Kevin Webb, co-founder of the transportation planning firm Conveyal, which builds apps based on open data. “And that’s going to upset the current framework for pricing.”

Robert S. Donovan/Flickr
Mar 31 2016