Thursday, September 08, 2011

Smart Cities Will Require Smarter Sensors

  • A team of German scientists is working to create better sensors in order to enable “smart cities.” In such cities, all major aspects of infrastructure would be connected to increase efficiencies, cut costs, and save energy.Recently at Smarter Technology, we wrote about a smartphone-based sensor system to help drivers save fuel by tracking traffic lights. Researchers in Germany are taking this type of concept to the next level by imagining whole cities tracked by sensors. In the envisioned “smart cities,” everything from traffic lights to houses to health care systems would be improved with mobile devices.
    To that end, a team of computer scientists, engineers and mathematicians from TU Darmstadt and the University of Kassel are working on what they call the “Cocoon” project. In their vision of a smart city, a network of sensors would act as transceivers to receive data, analyze it and transmit it to other sensors.
    The team’s “Smart Home” system is already available to network and allows control of household devices for improved energy efficiency. The team hopes to now create linked "Smart Hospital," "Smart Industry" and "Smart Farm" systems to improve efficiencies around a city.
    According to the researchers, a major setback in developing citywide systems like this is the lack of appropriate sensor devices.

    In a smart city, all aspects of city infrastructure would be connected.
    "Current types of antennae radiate omni-directionally, like light bulbs,” explained Rolf Jakoby, a professor of TU Darmstadt's Electrical Engineering and Information Technology Department, according to a statement. “We intend to create conditions, under which antennae will, in the future, behave like spotlights that, once they have located a sought device, will track it, while suppressing interference by stray electromagnetic radiation from other devices that might also be present in the area."
    In working toward creating this type of antenna, Jakoby and his team have already added energy-saving reconfigurable amplifiers terrestrial digital-television (TDTV) transmitters.
    "If all of Germany's TDTV-transmitters were equipped with such amplifiers, we could shut down one nuclear power plant," he said.
    Many smart-city plans require all devices to cooperate across a large range of communications protocols. According to the research team, however, this type of cooperation is unrealistic.
    "Converting all devices to a common communications protocol is infeasible, which is why we are seeking a new protocol that would be superimposed upon everything and allow them to communicate via several protocols," explained Jakoby.
    Although smart cities might sound futuristic, projects such as the traffic sensors at MIT are quickly paving the way to connected, fuel-saving communications networks.

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