Global analyst firm Gartner has predicted that by 2020 there will be more than 20 billion “things” connected to the Internet, sending data all over the world. These Internet of Things (IoT) devices could be anything from fish tanks and fidget spinners, to sunglasses, fridges and other home appliances. All these devices have the ability to send and receive data between one another, creating a network that can share valuable information.
When such devices are integrated into the infrastructure of our towns and cities, they have the potential to revolutionize the way we live our lives — making our cities more accessible, safer and easier to navigate. For fleet and operations managers in particular, this presents a very enticing opportunity.
The rise of smart cities
Smart cities use Internet-connected devices and sensors to analyze information across the infrastructure. They can gather data on road conditions, weather and even the flow of the traffic. This naturally can provide local authorities with a great deal of useful information in order to help them do their jobs more effectively.
For example, road sensors can detect if an area needs maintenance urgently, allowing them to judge which jobs ought to take priority over others. Over a longer term, they might even be able to analyze whether a particular intersection could benefit from an additional traffic light or zebra crossing. Another possibility is using traffic sensors to enable transit authorities to customize traffic light schedules (yes, just like in The Italian Job) or speed limits based on the data collected to enable smoother journeys for all road users.
What’s driving the rise of smart cities?
Two main technologies underpin the development of smart cities. The first is improved access to high speed Internet and cellular networks. The advent of 5G with even faster data transfer speeds across cellular networks will allow communication among a multitude of different devices to become more efficient. This is important as the data from connected devices is only valuable if it is received almost instantaneously.
The second is the rise of more affordable and streamlined sensors. Not only are the sensors becoming more advanced in terms of their capabilities, but they are also getting smaller. Currently, sensors are approximately the size of a hockey puck or smaller — soon, they may very well be almost invisible to the human eye, allowing for easier integration into our infrastructure. By interacting with a variety of other IoT devices, such as cars, mobile phones, and even fitness trackers, they can exchange information about the status of road networks or other infrastructure.
Benefits for fleets
The benefits which smart cities can bring to fleets are enormous. Currently, our technology can already monitor data within a vehicle or piece of heavy equipment — its speed, engine hours, idling time and other driver behavior. But imagine the possibilities when vehicles are connected to the entire infrastructure network.
Sensors monitoring road and weather conditions could provide real time updates on any potential dangers — for example, if there was black ice on a particular road during the winter, or if there had been a major accident on the usual route. Having fed this data back into the fleet vehicles, the technology could then suggest a better alternative in order to remain safe and reduce journey times. This would in turn help fleet managers with compliance processes and risk mitigation and ultimately become more efficient while also cutting costs.