How the Internet of Things Will Change Urban Areas Forever


Tech Skilled Workers Will Play A Critical Role In The Transformation Of Our Cities

According to the UN, more than half of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, and that number is projected to grow to almost two-thirds by 2050. This means that another 2.5 billion people will be living in cities in the next 35 years. The size of these cities is projected to grow tremendously as well.

In 2014, there were 28 megacities (cities with more than 10 million people) worldwide. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to 41. John Wilmoth, director of UN DESA’s population division, sums it up succinctly when he says “managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century.”

And it isn’t just city planning that will need to evolve in order to accommodate this growth. Cities cannot grow sustainably unless there are jobs to support its denizens. New York City, for example, is unlikely to revert to its manufacturing roots anytime soon, so what industries are likely to emerge as we continue into the heart of the 21st century? And what skillsets will workers need to acquire to meet this demand?

To many experts, the answer is technology and innovation. And many of the skills necessary to compete in the 21st century economy will likely be those related to coding, development, and other tech skills driven by the burgeoning IoT economy.

Over the past couple of years, the Internet of Things (IoT) has become one of the most widely-discussed concepts related to the current era of technology. Built on a network of sensors and internet-connected devices, the IoT has begun changing industries to the core, from manufacturing to marketing and just about everything in between.

Now the IoT is looking at revolutionizing not just how we work and consume, but also how we live. As the costs of sensors and technology drop, governments around the world are looking at how the IoT revolution can change the cities we live in, and will put approximately $41 trillion over the next 20 years toward improving efficiencies and streamlining services throughout urban infrastructures–as long as the world has enough developers and tech skilled workers to meet IoT demands.

The current gap between the skills necessary to accommodate this projected growth economy and the available workforce could be “opportunity knocking” for anyone with the right skills looking to enter the workforce or change career focus.

Currently there are upward of 300,000 working developers contributing to IoT growth. Unfortunately, this is a far cry from the approximately 4.5 million developers that will be needed by 2020 to create and maintain an Internet of Things capable of solving the challenges set forth by urban growth and development.

The good news is that as coding has become the new literacy. Although more students are graduating with some of the tech skills to support this growing trend toward a connected future, it’s not enough. Those who are looking to increase skills in this area, are subscribing to a variety of targeted solutions such as coding bootcamps that can help prepare them with in-demand skills for the growing IoT economy. Everyone including the government, education, and the private sector has a role in preparing more developers and tech skilled workers to support the digital transformation of urban centers. Collaborating and doing this well can lead to positive changes in just a few years, making cities unrecognizable by today’s standards.

Welcome To Beacon City

The beauty of the IoT is that it will change the world into an interactive network of equipment dedicated to improvement and efficiency. Once static objects will become dynamic components capable of change at a moment’s notice. Developers will create software capable of analyzing data gathered from traffic patterns, pedestrian movement, building and fixture energy consumption, and even from trashcans, and automated systems will deliver results based on those analyses. These sense-and-respond abilities mean that truly proactive systems will emerge–a grand departure from the simple reactive systems of the past.

Smart traffic lights, also known as “adaptive signals,” is aiming to better improve traffic flow in busy urban areas. Bellevue, a rapidly growing city of 130,000 located just east of Seattle, has already deployed a working, sensor-driven intersection signal system, effectively reducing the cost and hassle of commuting. These lights vary their green-yellow-red cycles depending on how much traffic is on the road at one time. This has reduced travel times up to 43 percent in certain areas, saving drivers $9 million to $12 million annually according to Bellevue officials. Other areas that have embraced adaptive signals include Los Angeles and Orange County in California, and nearly 80 percent of the state of Utah as well. Once developers have worked out all the kinks and proven the strategy, cost-effective smart traffic lights could be coming to a city near you!

Parking space sensors might sound trivial, however, they’re anything but. In 2013, Frost & Sullivan predicted that the parking industry in both North America and Europe would see major investments ranging from $200 to $250 million through 2018. In 2016, the parking industry is valued at an estimated $9 billioni. Off-street parking in lots and complexes can be improved with space sensors that work in conjunction with digital signage, such as the boards in the Baltimore/Washington Airport which can point drivers directly to open parking spaces. Additional benefits include the ability to reserve a parking space before you even leave the home.

Improvements are coming to on-the-street parking as well. Similar sensors are being used to beam traffic information directly to cell phone applications that notify drivers of open spaces and allow them to select street-parking on-demand. Siemens is already investing in more streamlined parking. They recently started the Mobility IDEA (Improving Design and Engineering for All) Contest as their way to find innovative solutions to some of the toughest challenges in the traffic industry. Through this initiative, Siemens awarded a $50 thousand in-kind traffic software grant to the top ranking university by idea submission to help train future engineers. As more students learn coding and new developers hit the scene looking for work, innovative startups and education providers will increasingly compete for grants and funding like this. Siemens is shooting for a win, as these on-street parking improvements could help to clear up traffic in downtown areas considering that on average, up to 30 percent of congestion may be caused by people driving around the block looking for a parking space.

Smart LED Streetlights currently in production by GE could soon fill off-street parking lots, and come equipped with video, light, and weather sensors that easily integrate with IoT software development platform Predix. The idea in the off-street parking lots is the same as on the road: lights get brighter when pedestrians, cyclists, or traffic approaches, and dim when nobody is around. The seamless hardware integration with Predix means that coders and developers can create new models and explore breakthrough solutions on the fly.

San Diego deployed some of America’s first intelligent lighting systems, swapping some 3,000 street lights for fixtures with sensors that provide an estimated annual savings of $250,000 for the city. In fact, traditional lighting can end up accounting for 40 percent of a municipality’s electric bill, according to VP and global technology director of GE, Bill Ruh points out in an article with TechCrunch. He claims that new street lights can save between 50 to 70 percent on electricity with to the combination of LED lighting and sensor technology.

Beyond lighting, smart streetlights equipped with cameras and other sensors can help city officials collect visual data that could be applied to any application, from counting cars and traffic patterns for transportation purposes, to keeping an eye out for jaywalkers or other public safety violations that need attention. In the UK, for example, a new lamp that becomes “extra-bright” when it senses loud noises or voices is being tested out as an “anti-hooliganism” measure, hoping to deter criminals and rabble-rousers from the scene with its luminous activity. Data can be used to reroute police patrols and keep streets safer.

Smart Trash Cans are another piece of IoT-connected hardware that could change the face of the urban landscape. In Philadelphia, BigBelly smart trash cans cost $4,000 each, but have already led to a realization of $1 million a year in savings. Smart sensors detect the amount of waste in the bin, and a low-maintenance, chain-operated compacting system is activated once the bin is full. The compactor runs off of a 12-volt battery which is kept charged by a solar panel, and has the additional ability of sending a message to collectors when completely full and in need of being empty. This initiative has enabled Philadelphia to decrease the number of weekly garbage-collecting shifts to just 5 – down from 17 before – leading to massive savings on operation costs related to fuel, labor, and maintenance.

Planes, Trains, And Automobiles

Not only are cities and urban centers looking at an IoT facelift–the vehicles that travel the veins and arteries connecting these beating concrete-and-metal hearts are changing fundamentally now as well. What used to take a mechanic will now take a dedicated team of computer scientists, coders, and developers to manufacture and repair. Routine checkups won’t just be for brake pads and oil changes anymore, but may include firmware and software updates that will keep a vehicle road- and IoT-ready. It might be time to look for a mechanic with coding skills…

Smart cars have been in the headlines for a while now, with contenders like Google and Tesla throwing their hats into the ring from the beginning. With such hype, it’s no wonder that Gartner estimates 250 million connected vehicles on the roadways by 2020. Prototype smart cars tout the ability to interact with users’ smartphones to gather information–such as appointments and itineraries, for example–and can propose new routes optimized by this information. Autopilot abilities, once perfected, will allow the “driver” to sit back and let the computer take the wheel, freeing up time they would usually dedicate to a commute. As more autonomous vehicles hit the road, they will join a network that makes decisions based on the movement of each individual component, meaning that cars can drive closer together and in patterns that optimize movement. These “smart patterns” will work in conjunction with sensors on traffic lights and other roadside fixtures to help reduce at least some of the 7 billion hours drivers spend in traffic every year and $1 trillion in fuel costs, massive amounts of carbon emissions and lost productivity stemming from the same problem.

Smart commercial trucks may dominate the roadways sooner than private autonomous cars do. Otto, a division of Uber made up of ex-Google coders and developers, is focusing on bringing the self-driving truck to the forefront of the transportation industry. With regulations on how many consecutive hours a human driver can log due to exhaustion and requirements, the trucking industry (worth $726 billion in revenue in 2015, and accounting for 81 percent of all freight transport) is looking at an unprecedented leap in productivity.

Intelligent aircraft are joining the commercial truck as part of the Internet of Things’ transportation renaissance. While airplanes have been using sensors for some time now to collect data on fuel economy, altitude, location, and maintenance needs, that data isn’t generally analyzed until after the flight is over and the aircraft has been grounded. However, GE’s team of engineers and developers have created new tools that can actually analyze fuel use inflight, and help make subtle adjustments to components such as the wing flaps to reduce drag and conserve energy. The company testing GE’s new equipment showed savings of one percent in a year, but with industry-wide fuel expenses sitting at about $30 billion annually, that number can really add up. As more developers enter the job market and begin to work on IoT’s inflight abilities, including autonomous piloting, the technology could be used to avert airline tragedy, such as overriding pilots in crisis situations or locating downed aircraft such as Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Railway sensors are already being installed in and besides railways in Britain, as Network Rail Telecom and Cisco join hands on a project to provide better visibility and safety to passengers on trains. These sensors will inform a centralized command center of maintenance needs, as well as of threats posed by the elements such as flooding or landslides, and is projected to help reduce the approximately 1.3 million hours currently spent on rail inspections. Across the pond in New York, the Canarsie subway line installed brand new IoT-enabled tracks and trains that can be tracked with precision, meaning that more trains per hour (26, as opposed to the previous 15) can run on one route without the risk of collision.

Of course, all of these wonderful possibilities are predicted to change our lives for the better–but the IoT still has a few obstacle to overcome. Developers and coders with cybersecurity knowledge are going to be required to make sure that the open interface is connected to via secure means, while big data analysts will be needed to make sense of all the information we’re sending to clusters. The amount of tech jobs that will require IoT-specific and coding knowledge is immense. Nevertheless, the future is bright. With the Internet of Things to usher us onward, and a collaborative effort from the public and private sectors to prepare the required tech talent with the right skills, there is no challenge for which we can’t find a solution.

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