Cisco names 10 cities using its cloud-based smart service

From Paris to Kansas City, cities monitor traffic, parking, air pollution with sensors and central dashboards

Cisco, which has promoted its smart city technologies for more than two years, today announced that 10 cities, including Paris and Copenhagen, are using its cloud-based service to connect to traffic, parking and environmental sensors in real time.

Insights from the data collected from the Internet of Things sensors can help city agencies make operations more efficient, reduce costs and respond quicker to emergencies, Cisco said.

Cisco is showcasing the technology at the Smart City Expo World Congress 2016 in Barcelona this week. The networking giant calls its service the Cisco Smart+Connected Digital Platform.

"We're creating value in the smart city space with the Internet of Things boom," said Munish Khetrapal, managing director of solutions for smart and connected communities, in an interview. "Real-time data is important because a two minutes' faster response to an emergency can save thousands of dollars."

Cisco envisions smart city networks and sensors with the ability to warn drivers of the location of black ice patches in winter so they can slow down or go in a different direction, Khetrapal said. Such a network could also be set up for dynamic billing, so that a city applies a toll discount for drivers who take a less congested route.

"Real-time data makes for more informed decisions and reduces energy consumption," he said. Cisco has been working on the platform in stealth mode for three years, he said. Today, Cisco announced that eight cities are using the technology in addition to Paris and Copenhagen. They are Kansas City, Mo.; Schenectady, N.Y.; Adelaide, Australia; Bucharest, Hungary; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Bangalore, India; Jaipur, India; and Trancing, Slovakia.

Using the platform, Cisco said it can securely connect data from all the operations in a city, including water management, traffic, parking, lighting, neighborhood security and more.

In certain cities, some of the data will be shared with citizens and businesses. For example, retailers could see heat maps that show where the heaviest foot traffic is located near stores. Such data would be anonymous to protect users' privacy. In the case of data from video sensors, faces will be blurred out, Cisco said.

Many cities are working toward a common interface, or dashboard, to connect all the disparate sensor data. Cisco has created APIs (application programming interfaces) for third-party developers to create dashboards for city managers and other officials to use.

In one example, Cisco showed how Paris is using a dashboard from the Place de la Nation district to monitor parking, street lighting, traffic and crowds. The Paris dashboard can also show how many people are gathered in one tourist area and the average amount of time they stand there.

Crowds can be counted with video sensors but also by counting the number of smartphones and tablets connected to a Wi-Fi zone in an area, Cisco said.

Crowd data could also be used to automatically call for more buses or cabs to show up nearby. Using multiple data sets, traffic staff could access environmental sensor data to find ways to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, while improving emergency response times, Cisco said.

"For smart cities, we need to … make it super-simple for cities to securely connect new 'things' so that new information can be collected, analyzed and shared," said Cisco Senior Vice President Rowan Trollope in a blog.

Khetrapal said cities can save million of dollars with Cisco's platform over building their own networks to connect data from sensors with servers. In the example of a service to monitor parking spaces, he estimated it would cost between $1 to $1.10 per day per parking space to install sensors and securely maintain the network. For a parking garage with 1,000 spaces, that would be about $365,000 annually.

Cisco will not produce the sensors and is working with dozens of partners that make them. Cisco will certify the capabilities of various sensors and will help city officials pick the sensors they need, Khetrapal said. The company is also working with infrastructure and wireless network providers, including AT&T, Sprint, Deutsche Telekom and engineering, consulting and infrastructure company Black & Veatch.

Cisco also will partner with IBM in providing its platform to cities, with IBM providing analytics software. "Cisco's uniqueness is the ability to connect and converge multiple [network and device] protocols," Khetrepal said.

Steve Hilton, an analyst at Mach Nation, said Cisco's smart city platform approach will help cities aggregate data that affects their operations to help improve efficiencies and long-term planning.

"Most cities are incredibly in silos where things like parking and traffic and waste management are separate systems," he said. "It's hard to get most cities to connect everything together at one time, yet that's the holy grail for smart cities."

Vendors like Cisco, meanwhile, must prove a return on investment for cities using smart technology that is derived from lower electricity and water usage, or even reduced crime, Hilton said.

The best ROI in smart city projects has come from installing energy-efficient streetlights that can be automatically dimmed at appropriate times, Hilton said. Yet, getting cities to add more sensors to a citywide network is a slow and deliberate process.

"Cities can't do everything at once," he added. "Cities will catch up, but it won't happen overnight."

Even Cisco's Trollope admitted that smart city returns are slow going. "Results won't come overnight, but change will happen faster than you might expect," he blogged.

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