how M2M is building smarter cities

Machines can make cities smarter. Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, designed to communicate autonomously, is underpinning many technology developments that will improve everyday life in evolving urban environments. Here are five ways in which sensors and data communications are changing the way that we live.

1. smart driving

Transportation is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing the modern city. Using M2M technology to sense real-time traffic information and feed back to a central point can help city planners adapt to changing traffic flows, both in real time, and strategically for the long term.

In Santander, northern Spain, transportation is a focal point in a broad-ranging smart city project funded by the EU. As part of the €6 million initiative, organizers have placed 12,000 sensors throughout the city and its surrounds.

Sensors can monitor parameters including temperature, noise and light, along with the presence of vehicles. Placed high above the ground in street lights and in some cases, under the asphalt in the roads, they will sense many things, including real-time traffic movement.

Data from buses will also track traffic jams and accidents in real time, and in time, information feeds from trains and smart bicycles will also be available. A smart travel map is already live, showing the state of traffic in the region.

The city envisages a reduction in congestion, along with emissions and noise, as the project continues.

2. smart parking

Parking is another everyday transportation activity that can be made smarter with the use of M2M technology. By using sensors to detect free spaces and relay the information to drivers, cities can decrease congestion and increase parking revenues.

Streetline, an Orange Business partner, has developed a wireless sensor technology that it has embedded in streets as part of a smart city program undertaken by Barcelona. These sensors, installed in 2013 near Born market in the City’s Ciutat Vella district, use either sound level monitoring or road surface temperature detection to tell whether a car is parked at the spot.

The sensors form a mesh network, which relays information within a minute to Streetline’s back-end platform. From there, it is made available via a parking app on mobile phones.

3. smart water

Traffic isn’t the only flow that can be managed with the use of M2M technology in a smart city. Water wastage is a huge problem for modern urban environments. Last year, European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik called for innovation in this area, pointing out that only 11 of the 28 European capital cities have wastewater collection systems. Water metering is vital to conserve this precious resource, and M2M technology can help.

Water metering can help citizens to monitor and constrain their own water usage, while providing utilities with valuable information about how much water is being used. Orange has installed almost a million smart water meters in Paris since 2011. These help individuals and companies to better manage their water use through the use of real-time data.

Those meters were fitted by m2ocity, a joint venture backed by Orange. In Le Havre, the same company has fitted 100,000 smart water meters. They enabled customers to receive text messages or emails warning of water leaks, and let them monitor water consumption via an online account.

4. smart environment

In Europe, exposure to particulate matter reduces every resident’s life by an average of one year, according to the World Health Organization. Monitoring air quality is a big challenge for the smart city.

In Belgrade and Pancevo, Serbia, authorities placed wireless sensors on bus roofs during 2011-12 to measure air quality and relay the information to a central point. The sensors in the EkoBus system measure temperature and relative humidity, in addition to carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide levels. The buses update an online data feed in real time, so that residents can view air quality data using a mobile application.

5. smart trash

“Why does the bin man come every week to my house? Why doesn’t the bin tell him when it’s full?” asks Tim Devine, a telecommunications consultant at PA Consulting. M2M technology is already rising to the challenge.

In south-eastern Finland, waste management company Itä-Uudenmaan Jätehuolto (IUJ) has been using wireless sensors from Enevo, which it places under the lids of recycling bins. These tell how much waste is in the bin, communicating the results wirelessly to a central analytics system.

The back-end software uses historical data to predict when the containers will be full up, and schedules pickups dynamically based on the information. The results have been impressive, with collection stops down from 4469 to 3354 during the trial period. Net financial savings are up 47%.

what can we learn from this?

What’s interesting about some of these projects is their scope. The Belgrade and Pancevo projects, for example, use the bus-based sensors to locate buses and predict arrival times.

Saverio Romeo, principal analyst at Beecham Research, argues that smart city planners will view smart city projects holistically. “It’s a limitation if a local authority decides to do one thing today, and looks at another system in three years and can’t create interoperability between them,” he says.

Sensors will play an important part in this planning process. We are still in the early stages of the smart city. As the story unfolds, one thing is for sure: the Internet of Things will play a pivotal role.

Find out more about the Orange Business M2M Intelligent Apps Enabler – a platform to deliver tailored M2M applications, while managing devices, real-time messages and application development.