Jan 15, 2019Internet of Things (IoT) technology is helping the Canadian city of Fredericton launch a data-sharing program that will provide its citizens, department managers and employees with access to information regarding the conditions and services around town, while the data collected will enable entrepreneurs to develop their own IoT solutions based on information collected from sensors. The city teamed with LoRaWAN network solution company eleven-x this year, and has built a LoRaWAN network throughout its downtown. The firm is in the process of installing sensors that would transmit data via that network, for multiple use cases to track conditions around the city.
One of the first pilots consists of a network of sensors installed at handicapped parking spaces to detect when cars are parked above them. The city hopes that the occupancy data will allow it not only to obtain insight into how the spaces are used, but also to improve access to handicapped spaces where they are needed, based on city planning. The other target is technology-based innovation. The data is expected to enable entrepreneurs to develop solutions or applications, such as an app with which drivers can locate the closest available handicapped parking space in real time.
Fredericton, with a population of 60,000, is the capital city of Canada's New Brunswick province, and is located on the Saint John River. For more than a decade, the city has strived to be a technology innovation leader, says Adam Bell, Fredericton's manager of financial reporting and accounting. In 2002, it was among the first cities in North America to offer free public Wi-Fi. It was one of the first cities with a fiber network, and in 2016 it was named by Startup Canada as the national startup community of the year. The city is taking part in Canada's Vision 2020 Economic Development Strategy to foster entrepreneurial organizations.
Fredericton has a program known as Ignite Fredericton that aims to encourage entrepreneurs by attracting and retaining talent, and then providing connectivity and collaboration. The city is home to the University of New Brunswick, which Bell calls one of Canada's most entrepreneurial universities. "Our long-term vision is to be a smart city and continue to build our ecosystem as a smart city and tech startup hub," Bell states. In that effort, he says, the city intends to create opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs. Some companies will be for-profit, while others consist of non-profit organizations. "Our vision is to be one of the smartest cities in Canada."
As part of that vision, the city decided this year to invest in the LoRaWAN network at its business center, in order to provide connectivity for future projects. Initially, it is launching several pilots. In addition to the intelligent parking-based pilot, it will also capture data from sensors for smart water metering, flood detection and air quality monitoring.
The city wanted to start with the big picture, Bell says, and that was providing the infrastructure for IoT-based solutions. By building a system providing connectivity throughout the city center, and even collecting data from sensors, other companies can begin building their own solutions, and can work with eleven-x to start their own applications.
With regard to parking, Fredericton is installing sensors in the road surface at each of its downtown handicapped spaces. The city already has 18 parking sensors installed at spaces. The sensors can detect each time a car parks above one, then forwards that data, along with its unique ID, to the LoRaWAN gateways. That data is then captured by the city's cloud-based software.
With that data, the city could determine which spaces are most actively used, which are not used often at all and which are used during specific seasons. In that way, they could better allocate the spaces where they are most needed. However, Bell says, an entrepreneur could use that data to create other solutions, such as allowing drivers with physical disabilities to access real-time parking information.
To deal with flooding, the city intends to install an ultrasonic distance sensor under a footbridge that crosses the Saint John River. The sensor will measure the distance to the water's surface, then forward that data to the city's server via LoRaWAN. The software will thus be ale to detect how high the river level is, as well as identify any potential flooding. That information could be made available to the public, and could also help prompt emergency operations for a faster response.
Sensors in ball parks and other areas could measure water saturation in lawns, then transmit data about the conditions of those fields, based on those measurements, at any given time, in order to help city personnel manage those sites, as well as inform sports managers about playing conditions. The city is also preparing to test smart metering sensors for water management. Initially, the city may install such a sensor at a local ice rink to help facility personnel monitor how water is used.
Ryan Hickey, eleven-x's COO, says the LoRaWAN-based technology provides about a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) range for each gateway, and a large number of sensors within that range could transmit data to those gateways. The LoRaWAN-based system could also accomplish such functions as locating individuals or assets within buildings with the addition of GPS or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons. With the three LoRa gateways alone, the city can identify a sensor's location within a resolution of about 70 to 100 meters (230 to 328 feet). However, Hickey says, tracking moving sensors is not part of the city's project. With the network, he explains, "We make sure data from the sensors is collected reliably and securely."
The city has an Open Data portal that already collects data which the public can access. "We have people who pull data sets off the portal, and come back with analysis," Bell says, that could lead to new apps or products. For instance, he adds, an individual analyzed the demographic information the city provided in comparison to public transit stops, in order to identify where more access might benefit the city's older population. Sensor-based data should be made available on the portal within six to eight weeks. Data is already flowing from the sensors, Hickey reports, and integration to the portal is now under way.
The potential for IoT deployments and innovation means that the city and local entrepreneurs will embark upon many more projects, Bell says. "It's absolutely fascinating," he states. "There are things you have to work on, and things you get to work on. This is one of the things you get to work on." Bell says the city considered building its own LoRa network, but found that it could accomplish more by teaming with a company like eleven-x. "There's a steep learning curve to build your own network. It's much more exciting to work with a partner that has expertise. I want to get started with the fun stuff."
By teaming with eleven-x, Bell says, Fredericton can collaborate with some of the other communities in which the technology firm has deployed its network. "We want our solutions to be transferable," he says, while also being able to view and share information about what other cities are accomplishing.
Eleven-x was established in 2014 as an IoT solutions provider. It installed its first low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) in Canada in December 2016. Since then, the city has built a presence in more than 30 other cities throughout the country.