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Drones and sensors will make cities even smarter in 2018, says Chris Anderson, CTO, Taoglas

Cities will move into new areas of connectivity that make sense for specific applications

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Smart recycling cans in action
Smart recycling cans in action

Just as digital transformation in a business means automating routine processes, and pushing tribal and institutional knowledge into expert systems, for the modern municipality, many of the same efficiencies can be harvested by adding communications to systems and processes that today are manual.

 

There are thousands of things that can benefit from this sort of connectivity, including garbage cans and dumpsters that call for pick-up when they’re full, street lights over express lanes that are only on when the express lane is open, automated tolling, automated meter reading, and digital transformation of service worker dispatch, briefing and situational awareness.

 

One advantage that a municipality has that many commercial businesses do not is a clearly defined location and a fixed area of operation. It’s clear that airborne drones can carry useful payloads such as visible light and infra-red cameras. Tethered drones can act as a portable watchtower or communications tower running from a vehicle. The same concept can be used on municipal structures to create additional capabilities for fire protection, law enforcement or city maintenance.

 

Beginning in 2018, we’ll see drones gain additional capabilities, especially in mission duration. As this happens, the ability for municipal services to send a free-flying drone out to check on something can dramatically increase responsiveness and quality of service, while at the same time lower the cost of providing those services.

 

Infrastructure safety and maintenance inspection for telephone poles, bridges, fresh and wastewater systems, and roads can all be enhanced by drone systems. In some cases, the drone fly-by can be autonomous and the images are reviewed by a professional who’s now able to deal with such inspections much faster than before.

 

In other cases, the drone is simply used in place of a gantry or scaffold system to get an up-close look at something faster and safer than doing it in person. They are, of course, only a first line of inspection; if they think they found something, further drone or human inspection gets called in, but that’s significantly better than only having human inspection from the start.

 

In 2018, we’ll see this type of drone use grow further. The use of smaller drones along with either tethered power and communications or specialized radio systems will increase as an application for sewer pipe inspection and other underground areas where it’s not practical for a human to inspect.

 

While drones can look at things, having sensor systems fixed in place allows continuous reporting of critical information over time. These same remote communication systems can allow for monitoring of any aspect of city management. These systems don’t have to be highly specialised. In some cases, simply placing a camera somewhere to watch something works fine. In other cases, using commonly available industrial sensor devices combined with a remote communication system can get you what you need.

 

These systems all need communications links. In some cases, that means the use of lower-bandwidth, lower-cost solutions like LoRa, Sigfox, or cellular via NB-IoT or LTE Cat-M1. In other cases where cameras are used as the sensors, higher bandwidth is required, and so municipal Wi-Fi, Cat 3 or higher LTE or even in some situations satellite solutions are needed. Many of these applications require high-precision GNSS, and in certain scenarios, there are legacy sensor networks to communicate with at VHF or UHF. State-of-the-art specialised antenna solutions are available for all of these systems and many more.

 

2018 will certainly see this wave of digital transformation reach new heights in the scope of a connected city. No longer will cities be anchored to one or two connectivity options that deliver a one-size-fits-all solution. Cities will move into new areas of connectivity that make sense for specific applications. The advance of efficient hardware and deployment of dedicated network technologies will enable cities to solve very specific problems in 2018, rather than simply addressing the demand to just simply be connected. Specialized drone use is among those solutions that will free up governmental workforces to tackle new problems. In short, 2018 will finally use the IoT with specific purpose.

 

 

Chris is the CTO at Taoglas; he joined the team in 2013 and has more than 15 years’ experience in the industry. Chris is responsible for managing and coordinating global engineering resources to ensure Taoglas’ continued growth and efficiency. He is an expert in his field, having executed and overseen hundreds of successful RF/cellular product developments for many Fortune 100 organizations and other household company names. Throughout his career, Chris has held positions at Grayhill, NextNet, Motorola, Spectrum Design and Digi International, to name but a few. He has been responsible for all aspects of radio product development including chip level cellular, GPS & Wi-Fi solutions, antennas, software, production test systems, agency and carrier certifications, as well as manufacturing deployment.

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