The IoT (The Internet of Things) has received a lot of publicity when it comes to home automation. Retailers at home shows and tech conferences are happy to show off the latest ways to control your lights, sound, window blinds, and more with home automation and apps.

Technology will continue to change our daily lives. But what about other uses for IoT that can have a significant impact not just for the sake of convenience and energy efficiency, but for safety? That’s the idea behind Smart Cities; IoT is now making its way into urban planning and municipal projects.

What is a Smart City?

The phrase “smart city” refers to the use of internet-connected devices for urban and city planning. The Smart Cities Council defines it as “one that has digital technology embedded across all city functions.”

A true Smart City by that definition is not yet here. However, dozens of Smart City projects are in the works. According to Nominet, which looked at 150 such Smart City projects worldwide in 2016, most focus on data platforms, environmental monitoring, and citizen engagement.

“However, if you combine traffic management, parking and transport together; transportation as a whole becomes the second largest category,” they said.

The Nominet analysis pointed out that many of the transportation projects have a two-fold approach: optimize current infrastructure and to encourage high-density alternative forms of transport, the idea to move us away from cars.


While such projects are mostly in their early phases, the Smart City approach is working today in other ways to keep people healthier and safer. Take, for example, efforts in New Orleans, where the fire department is using a smart approach to distribute more smoke detectors in homes. A working fire alarm cuts the risk of dying in a home fire in half. The department used to wait until people requested a smoke detector, which meant installing about 800 per year. Using data sets from the Census Bureau and other information, they targeted neighborhoods with the highest risk for fire fatalities. Since 2015, they have installed 18,000 smoke detectors.


In Chicago, teams are using data to improve restaurant inspections. With only three dozen inspectors available to check more than 15,000 restaurants, it’s easy to miss something that might cause serious illness. By analyzing 11 variables, teams can focus on restaurants most likely to spread food-borne illness. According to the Wall Street Journal, “after the algorithm went into use in 2015, a follow-up analysis found that inspectors were visiting restaurants with possible critical violations seven days sooner than before. Since then, its use has resulted in a 15% rise in the number of critical violations found, though the number of illness complaints—an imperfect measure of violations—has been flat.”

Adding IoT

Such projects are obviously useful, but what does that have to do with IoT? By adding sensors and making devices smart, cities can operate more efficiently and provide better service to its customer: the resident.

Here are just a few ways cities are employing IoT:

Sensor-equipped water pipes can identify leaks.

  • Electric meters can track power use.
  • Parking meters can automatically flag violations.
  • Sensors can gather information about traffic and available street parking.
  • Sensors can detect motion, adjusting LED streetlights so that they dim if no one is around and automatically brighten when cars or pedestrians pass.
  • Sensors can count foot traffic.

The city of Louisville was thinking even bigger when it issued 1,000 sensor-equipped inhalers to asthma sufferers. By tracking the data, they could map parts of the city where air quality is triggering breathing problems. After outlining the worst areas, the city planted trees in one of them, reducing particulate matter by 60 percent.

In North Carolina

In our part of the world, the Triangle of North Carolina, leaders from Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill are looking for ways to make the area smarter. The first Triangle Smart Cities Summit took place in June 2017. The event engaged local city, industry, and academic leaders. Each group shared their challenges and ideas to help connect the region, with a vision of guiding the Triangle’s cities and towns into smarter growth. Some of our cities are already using the smart city approach:

  • Cary is using sensors on water meters to check for leaks.
  • Raleigh’s solid waste trucks have sensors to track their locations.
  • Chapel Hill is scanning parking lots to track empty spaces and inform drivers real time.

Will We Achieve Smart Cities?

Some argue the dream of a Smart City is a utopia we cannot create. Are we too optimistically pinning our hopes on more data solving our urban woes? How will we power the trillions of sensors needed to connect every streetlight and water pipe across America? What about security? Can we trust our governments to keep any identifying data safe from hackers?

Those questions haven’t stopped people from trying. After all, these projects are making a difference in our health and safety. The Smart Cities Council is tracking 12,000 of these projects across the globe. In late 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation put out a call for smart city projects and received 78 applications.

Imaginovation is always looking for ways to leverage IoT to make people’s lives healthier, safer, and easier. Contact us to partner on an IoT project.


Pete Peranzo

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