The Intelligent City

Microsoft's CityNextA hot topic these days is the intelligent city. So just what is it and how is it tied to the Internet of Things?

In this short post I will try and explain it by way of an analogy.

The Vending Machine Example
vending-machineWe have probably all seen and used a vending machine. You put your money in the slot, make your selection, and the corresponding soda drops down ready for you to take out and enjoy.

Behind the scenes there is an embedded microprocessor that is programmed to count the money you put in. If it is correct the program checks if there is a soda in the slot you have selected. Again, if yes, the program allows your selected soda to drop down.

Arduino Uno microprocessor card

This Arduino Uno is a typical microprocessor that can be embedded into “things”. It is very inexpensive and quite small.

It is relatively easy to program to suit your specific “thing”.

 

Now imagine that this microprocessor is connected to the Internet. Then a server at head office can communicate with the vending machine.

intelligent vending

The head office server can poll all the vending machines in the region and collate the information. The technicians can access this information while on the road via a laptop or smartphone and know what each vending machine needs for restocking.

If there is a technical problem they will be alerted so that they can go and fix the machine quickly – which is important for sales.

Head office will have powerful statistics on which sodas or popular, and that can allow them to purchase supplies intelligently.

In many cases the server is not physically located at “head office” but can be a cloud service provided by companies like Microsoft.

The Intelligent City
The vending machine example is fairly easy to follow. The same principles apply in many different areas of city infrastructure  and services. With intelligent microprocessors embedded into “things” like traffic lights, and turnstiles at stations and so on, one can improve traffic flow and public transportation. It is a big subject, you can read more in this summary wiki article.

People from all over the world are looking into Intelligent Cities:

Why is it so important? Increasingly people are living in cities, so it is important that we make these cities as efficient as possible. This is described eloquently by Florian Lennert in a recent TED talk:

Summary
While the concepts are not too complex, society is not there yet. A lot still needs to be done. That also means that for us as entrepreneurs there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.