Insights from BCC Research

Smart Citizens Sense Their Cities Can be Made Smarter

Posted by Clayton Luz on Feb 1, 2016 6:00:00 AM

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody,” wrote Jane Jacobs in her polemic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

 
Sounds like Jacobs’s thought informs much of the Smart Citizen platform, a “citizen-led” approach in which folks can monitor the quality of their local environment—city, neighborhood, or even the block right outside their window--using personal sensors. The idea, according to Smart Citizen, is to empower people in their communities to create local maps of air quality or sound problems, which can be reported to local city councils or to raise awareness of vital community issues.
 
What are the levels of air and noise pollution around your business? Wondering about the local humidity and temperature? Concerned about the levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide around your home? The Smart Citizen Kit not only measures these indications, but also allows you to share them instantly and compare with other places in your neighborhood, community or city.
 
Initiated in 2009 by a global team of architects, designers, and engineers, Smart Citizen, the self-billed world's largest independent environmental sensing network, is an open source technology for citizens’ participation in smarter cities. Based on geolocation, the Internet, free hardware and software for data collection and sharing, the platform connects people with their environment and their city to create more effective and optimized relationships between resources, technology, communities, services and events in the urban environment.
 
THE UBIQUITY OF SENSORS
 
Some 50 years ago, Jacob’s book championed the notion that residential cooperation plays a vital role in determining the quality of a neighborhood. Undoubtedly, the ubiquity of modern electronic sensors have helped bring her notion to fruition.
 
Sensors, according* to Srinivasa Rajaram, have seemingly permeated every aspect of our daily lives. And not just lives in America, but lives in countries around the globe.
 
“Sensors are found in most areas of life today. Modern vehicles, innovative medical devices, smart power supply systems and building technologies, all are inconceivable without sensors,” says Rajaram. “In the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, sensing techniques were limited to mechanical instruments such as glass level detectors, thermometers, mechanical devices, liquid level gauges, etc. Electrical sensors are now the primary method used for sensing physical properties, generating an electrical signal, converting it into a digital equivalent and sending it to a computer system where measurement and control of the process takes place.”
 
As sensors continue to improve in quality, they become more specific, robust, and smarter, Rajaram explains. They’re also becoming less expensive because of improved production methods.
 
Again, let’s take the aforementioned Smart Citizen Kit. This personal sensor is a piece of hardware that comprises a sensor and a data-processing board, a battery, an enclosure, and an API and a mobile app. The first board carries sensors that measure air composition (CO and NO2), temperature, humidity, light intensity and sound levels. Once it’s set up, the device will stream data measured by the sensors over Wi-Fi using the FCC-certified, wireless module on the data-processing board. Its low power consumption allows for placing the device on balconies and windowsills. Power to the device can be provided by a solar panel and/or battery.
 
Participants can upload the data to the Smart Citizen website, which shows about 800 kits deployed around the world, more than half of them in Europe, reports Sean Captain. Before tax and shipping, the basic kits run about $170.
 
According to Rajaram, the need for sensors is rising dramatically, driven by the ongoing boom in smart mobile communication technologies and tablet PCs. Many companies are already researching novel types of sensors for these applications. He says that mobile phones with face recognition are just around the corner, and that “cell phones with integrated spectrometers to measure food freshness are no longer inconceivable.”
 
SEMICONDUCTOR WIRELESS SENSOR NETWORKS
 
The wireless feature of the Smart Citizen helps “reduce the gaps to get data captured and streamed by sensors,” the company says, meaning no more cables, shields or having to visit libraries in order to get data about the environment.
 
Rajaram expects the proliferation of apps on smart phones, as well as Wi-Fi devices like personal sensors, to drive growth of semiconductor wireless sensor networks markets due to their ease of installation without the need for excess labor and wiring. Overall, wireless sensor networking should grow as more devices are freed from the grid and networks implement connectivity that is mesh architecture based.
 
He also notes the manufacturing costs and power consumption of wireless sensors should continue decreasing, which will result in wireless sensors being fully integrated into wireless networks, replacing hardwired configurations. “A broad spectrum of wireless communications
hardware and software is already available,” he says.
 
Semiconductor wireless sensor networks are used for bridge monitoring, implementing the smart grid, and monitoring for security implementation. Rajaram remarks that advanced technologies for wireless sensor networks also are associated with emerging ways of interconnecting devices that have never been connected before.
 
“Their presence,” he says, “are driving the development of the Internet of Things (IoT).”
 
WHAT IS THE INTERNET OF THINGS?
 
The Internet of Things can be defined as a diffuse layer of devices, sensors and computing power that covers the entire Internet. It extends the role of the Internet to an increasingly diverse range of devices and communications streams. It also can be defined as the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.
 
“IoT encompasses hardware, embedded software, communications services and information services associated with the things,” observes Rajaram. “The growth of such things will be rapid, such that the IoT’s growth will far exceed that of other connected devices. Sensors lay at the heart of IoT as they sense and communicate the data needed to allow other devices and/or humans to make evaluations or take actions.”
 
He sums up the IoT as “making a significant impact with an elaborate web of video, sensors and other devices/systems, citing one of its applications as connecting cities.
 
“The people, processes, data and things are helping the connected cities to run more efficiently while also enhancing overall security and safety. In general, connected cities can optimize operations in numerous ways that include parking, lighting, traffic, buses, waste management and much more.”
 
Much, much more, including the temperature and humidity outside your window, for instance. One gets the sense that the prescient Jacobs would have embraced today’s emerging sensor technology.
 
In 2013, the global market for sensors was valued at $79.5 billion. After reaching $86.3 billion in 2014, the market is expected to increase to nearly $154.4 billion in 2020, at a CAGR of 10.1% over the five year period from 2015 to 2020.
 
*Please note this post references an older version of the Global Markets and Technologies for Sensors report. The latest information can be found by clicking the below button: