Smart Infrastructure Logical Top Priority for IoT

The only issue Clinton and Trump can agree on is the need for massive improvements to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, especially its roads and bridges. But, please, let’s make it more than concrete and steel.

Let’s make it smart, and let’s make it the top priority for the IoT because of the trickle-down effects it will have on everything else in our economy.

Global economist Jeffrey Sachs stated the case eloquently in a recent Boston Globe op-ed, “Sustainable infrastructure after the Automobile Age,” in which he argued that the infrastructure (including not only highways and bridges but also water systems, waste treatment, and the electric grid) shaped by the automotive age has run its course, and must be replaced by one “in line with new needs, especially climate safety, and new opportunities, especially ubiquitous online information and smart machines.”

I’m currently reading Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel’s The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, and the Future of Urban Life, which makes the same argument: “The answer to urban expansion and diffusion — and the host of social consequences that they bring — may be to optimize, rather than increase, transportation infrastructure.”

The IoT is perfectly suited to the needs of a new information-based infrastructure, especially one which must balance promoting the economy and mobility with drastic reductions in greenhouse gasses (transportation produces approximately a third of the U.S.’s  emissions). It can both improve maintenance (especially for bridges) through built-in sensors that constantly monitor conditions and can give advance warning in time to do less-costly and less-disruptive predictive maintenance, and reduce congestion by providing real-time information on current congestion so that real-time alterations to signals, etc., can be made rather than depending on outmoded fixed-interval stoplights, etc.

Sachs points out that infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen since the Reagan years, and that it will require much more spending to bring it up to date.

A good place to look for a model is China.  The country already sports the largest concentration of M2M connections in the world: “74 million connections at the end of 2014, representing almost a third of the global base,” much of that in the form of smart bridges, smart rails, and smart grid, and critical because of the country’s rapid economic growth (Ratti cites a Beijing traffic jam that immobilized cars for an astounding 12 days!). Similarly, the government aims to have 95% of homes equipt with smart meters by next year.The country has used its investment in smart infrastructure to build its overall IoT industry’s ability to compete globally.

Sachs argues for a long-term smart infrastructure initiative:

“I propose that we envision the kind of built environment we want for the next 60 years. With a shared vision of America’s infrastructure goals, actually designing and building the new transport, energy, communications, and water systems will surely require at least a generation, just as the Interstate Highway System did a half-century ago.”

He says we need a plan based on three priorities to cope with our current national and global challenges:

“We should seek an infrastructure that abides by the triple bottom line of sustainable development. That is, the networks of roads, power, water, and communications should support economic prosperity, social fairness, and environmental sustainability. The triple bottom line will in turn push us to adopt three guiding principles.

First, the infrastructure should be “smart,” deploying state-of-the-art information and communications technologies and new nanotechnologies to achieve a high efficiency of resource use.

Second, the infrastructure should be shared and accessible to all, whether as shared vehicles, open-access broadband in public areas, or shared green spaces in cities.

Third, transport infrastructure should promote public health and environmental safety. The new transport systems should not only shift to electrical vehicles and other zero-emission vehicles, but should also promote much more walking, bicycling, and public transport use. Power generation should shift decisively to zero-carbon primary energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear power. The built environment should be resilient to rising ocean levels, higher temperatures, more intense heat waves, and more extreme storms.”

The IoT, particularly because of its ability to let us share real-time data that in turn can regulate the infrastructure, is ideally suited to this challenge. It’s time for Congress to not only spend on infrastructure but to do so wisely.

The result will be not only the infrastructure we need, but also a more robust IoT industry in general.


SmartAging Manifesto (draft): improve quality of aging & cut costs through IoT

What do you think constitutes “SmartAging?”

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about my IoT-based “SmartAging” concept, which combines:

  • Quantified Self health monitoring devices to make it easier to monitor your health conditions around the clock and help your caregivers better understand your health, and — hopefully — to motivate you to more activity and better eating.
  • smart home devices that make it easier to manage your home as you age and thereby avoid institutionalization.

However, I have been giving the concept a lot of thought, and have created a draft of a manifesto on the concept to guide my own work and hopefully provoke some discussion.  Here it is!

SmartAging Manifesto (draft)

  • Aging is a natural, lifelong process, so why fear and avoiding talking about it, especially how to make it more enjoyable and less costly?
  • We seniors aren’t all the same, so don’t treat us as if we were. Look beyond our wrinkles, and you’ll see some of us still work, some have just retired, and still others are long retired. When it comes to technology, some us us are afraid of it, some of us embrace it, and there are many others in the middle. Respect us for who we really are — and our choices.
  • We don’t want to have to work to master technology: we worked for 40 or 50 years, and now we want to enjoy ourselves. If you want to sell us technology, make it easy to learn and use. Maybe even fun…  Mark Weiser, credited as the IoT’s intellectual father, wrote that“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” That sounds pretty good to us!
  • We want to shift gears and have more fun. That doesn’t mean shutting off our brains, but it does mean that we now have time to explore new hobbies, play games, spend time with our families (especially grandchildren), and travel. We’re particularly interested in technology that can help us do these things.
  • We’re also more concerned about our health. We want to be as healthy as possible, as long as possible, and we’re worried about debilitating illnesses and becoming dependent on others. We’ll be very interested in new devices to help us stay healthier longer — especially if it isn’t obvious we’re using them and they don’t make us look weird and pitiful.
  • We’re also concerned about independence (most of us do live independently, incidentally) and staying in our own homes instead of being carted off to some smelly, dehumanizing institution. We’re interested in technology that can make it easier to run our homes and stay in them.
  • We’re got something that kids don’t: wisdom and perspective, gathered from long lives and tough experience. Don’t just look at us as buyers of your stuff: ask us for our ideas. You may be surprised what you’ll learn.

That’s what I’ve got so far, but I wanted to circulate the draft ASAP, to gather others’ thoughts as well (I’ll credit you if you contribute any ideas!). e-mail me your ideas.

Cautionary Note: Takes More Than #IoT to Make a City Smart

Posted on 8th September 2016 in cities, government, Internet of Things, smart cities, US government

“….I yield to no one in my love of smart city technologies, but I’ve been mixing it up in government for far longer, so I was appropriately chastised by this Boston Globe op-ed arguing that technology alone does not a city make smart…

Julian Agyeman, professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts, and Duncan McLaren,  an independent researcher, coauthored “Sharing Cities: A Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities.”

They argue that one of my favorite examples of public-private IoT-based collaboration, how WAZE data is shared instantly with Boston’s Traffice Management Center, resulting in things like rapid removal of double-parked cars, and real-time signaling based on current traffic flow,”

“….. merely represents a Band Aid slapped over a problem that still requires brave new political thinking and much-needed infrastructure investment. Rather than using the latest app to help manage traffic flow within an overburdened system, Boston — perhaps more than any other US city — needs a wider, well-resourced, truly integrated package of measures designed to actually decrease the volume of cars in the city. Failing to do this will ultimately undermine quality of life and regional character.”

True, and I stand corrected.

While also citing initiatives such as CCTV-enabled congestion pricing in London, the authors argue that a range of improvements to make traffic flow better and other civic improvements “… will not come about through ‘smart’ city partnerships but through political will. There’s no app that substitutes for public engagement and responsive leadership.”

Technology is not a panacea for urban issues, health care, or aging, but, I do believe that it can become one of the tools that could and should be debated by policy makers and the public.