On the (smart) road: How infrastructure can benefit from IoT

IoT technology offers to better monitor and manage cities’ key infrastructure

Our devices are getting smarter every day. Our homes are more connected, and our digital assistants can order us a pizza, get our groceries delivered, check the weather and even answer the door. Our cars are smart enough to drive — or at least reverse park — themselves. Buildings and stadiums are becoming smarter, as their HVAC systems, elevators, lights and other aspects are becoming connected via the internet of things.

But what about the other, less sexy but equally important parts of our everyday lives, like the infrastructure that ties our communities, cities, states and country together?

Anyone paying attention to politics in Australia will know that the term ‘infrastructure’ is frequently mentioned, and oftentimes so in the context of needing investment and overhaul. Of course, if you have driven on some of the roads in regional Australia or travelled on the stainless steel S set trains in Sydney, then you can attest: the infrastructure does need some upgrading.

But, does it need digitising as well? In short, yes. As nations such as the United States attempt to overhaul their infrastructure, and developing regions look to modernise, weaving in IoT will bring benefits for both general maintenance, but also create opportunities for new business models.

Smarter power grid means greater power efficiency. 

Major cities around the world are already working to connect the power grid, allowing the city to better monitor and adjust for outages. Bringing more connectivity to the grid offers municipalities an opportunity to better ensure consistent access to power. While IoT will not prevent a cyclone from cutting electricity to thousands of homes in Far North Queensland, or avoid outages due to bushfires coming through the national parks, it can help to better monitor unexpected surges or less dramatic outages.

Power companies will be better equipped to understand where surges are happening and where they can throttle down power to areas that have expected down times. Moreover, IoT gives officials the ability to better identify the cause of an unexpected outage. In the future, power companies could incentive consumer behaviour. Knowing the details of the usage could allow power companies to be savvier in terms of how they work with their customers to better use power.

Our roadways can power our cars and fix our potholes. 

Anyone who has a smartphone already knows about wirelessly charging your mobile phone — but what about your car? There are already experiments underway to explore electrifying roads that can allow an electric car to be charged while driving. Furthermore, roads will not only be able to charge your car, but will become smarter by understanding and sensing the wear and tear, being able to proactively anticipate when repairs are needed, and also providing usage data.

According to 2015 figures from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the estimated cost of avoidable congestion in capital cities is approximately $16 billion — a figure that’s expected to double by 2030.

If our roads became smarter, they can allow for more efficient repairs and better routing optimisation. Smart roads will be able to communicate with the vehicles that are using the roads to better optimise traffic, as well as ensure less stationary time.

The M4 motorway in Western Sydney is NSW’s first smart road, and uses CCTV, ramp metering and variable signage that responds to traffic flow in order to keep vehicles moving. The RAC in WA is calling for federal funding to create smart roads in its state.

Technology leads to better water management.

Looking at the UN statistics, one of the biggest issues our planet faces is getting clean water to the entire population. How can IoT possibly address this issue? Better insights into our water infrastructure can begin to reduce loses via poor pipes and valves.

Digitising water infrastructure can also allow for more efficient data to gauge how the water is being distributed and used. By some estimates, a state the size of Queensland could save millions of gallons of water if they were to adopt universal smart metering of their water usage. Greater insight into the physical movement of water, as well as how it is truly being used at the final point of distribution, allows for water companies to bring efficiencies to the network.

Infrastructure is vital to any community or society, as we all use it daily, and leaning on digital technology can enhance it greatly. If we can measure infrastructure usage, then we can improve it and, overall, direct resources to where they are most required. In the long term, this could also lead to the adoption of new business models.

Helen Masters is senior vice-president and general manager, Asia Pacific, at Infor.

 

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