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Three smart city solutions that are truly smart

City governments are inundated with smart city proposals from citizens, technology vendors and even academics who want to use city technologies to help solve some of the world’s most pressing urban problems. Engineers who have turned their attention to making cities cleaner, safer and more efficient have created solutions that may be able to save taxpayers money while improving their quality of life. Below we highlight three innovative examples.

Bigbelly: waste management meets wireless
Bigbelly trash and recycling receptacles have embedded capacity sensors that activate compressors as the bins start to become full. After several compression cycles, the bins start to approach capacity, and the sensor triggers an alert that can be sent by Wi-Fi to municipal sanitation workers.

Bigbelly is partnering with providers of wireless infrastructure by attaching cabinets to its receptacles so that they can house cellular amplifiers or Wi-Fi hotspots. The locations in which cities need to collect large volumes of trash are usually places that see a lot of foot traffic, the same places in which operators need to deploy small cells, distributed antenna systems, and Wi-Fi hotspots.

Caraoke: talking to toll tags
Developed by researchers at MIT, Caraoke uses RFID tags like EZPass that many drivers have already placed on their windshields in order to pay tolls. Caraoke is software deployed on a solar-powered printed circuit board that queries the transponders on these tags and uses the resulting information to track both individual vehicles and traffic flow patterns.

The MIT researchers think Caraoke could be deployed on street lights and could enable drivers to park anywhere in the vicinity without paying a parking meter. Instead the city would capture the information about where the venicle parked, and then bill the driver. Similarly, municipalities could capture information about how fast cars are going, and send tickets to drivers who exceed the speed limit.

In addition, traffic light deployments of Caraoke could help with congestion by reading the number of cars in an intersection and timing lights to maximize traffic flow. MIT says more than 70% of the cars on U.S. roads already have e-toll transponders, so a traffic control solution that leverages these transponders could make a meaningful difference.

Enlighted: illumninating energy waste
Enlighted is the smart lighting pioneer that is already saving AT&T an estimated $8 million a year by cutting the company’s energy bills with connected lights that power down when no one needs them. Now Enlighted is ready to do the same in outdoor environments with ruggedized sensors that can adjust light levels based on available daylight.

Enlighted’s outdoor sensor has a multi-phototransistor array attached to a light pipe which brings in data from the street below. Each sensor has its own microprocessor and memory so programs can be executed at the sensor level. Enlighted sensors can also use the IEEE 802.15.4 low-power protocol to communicate with wireless gateways using the 2400 GHz spectrum band. The gateways use Ethernet to send data to the cloud.

All of these solutions leverage systems that cities have put into place already, and add connectivity in order to increase efficiency. If those efficiencies yield enough cost savings, cities and private companies may be able to demonstrate positive returns from their smart city investments.

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