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The Future Is Now for Smart Cities

Municipalities across Europe are tapping into RFID and related technologies to deliver new and enhanced services.
By John Edwards
Oct 14, 2013

The City 2.0 has arrived. European planners, architects and utopians, from Leonardo da Vinci to Le Corbusier, have long proposed strategies for the development of more efficient and livable cities. Now, thanks to radio frequency identification and other cutting-edge technologies, municipalities across the continent are becoming smart cities, paving the way for sophisticated citizen-oriented services that improve the quality of life, address age-old public utility issues and enable ancient infrastructures to accommodate 21st century lifestyles.

Santander, Spain, for example, is a hotbed of smart city experimentation. An ancient port city on the nation's Atlantic coast, Santander is aiming for the future by reshaping itself as a prototype for smart cities worldwide. Blanketed with approximately 12,000 sensors, Santander is changing the lives of its residents by making an array of city services interactive and convenient.

Illustrations: iStockphoto
To continuously monitor the city's vital signs, Santander has deployed roughly 3,000 IEEE 802.15.4 devices, 200 GPRS modules and 2,000 joint RFID tag/QR code labels at street lamps, facades, bus stops and other locations, as well as onboard buses and taxis. Relying on video, temperature, moisture, pressure, magnetic strength and a variety of other sensing capabilities, the devices silently monitor parking availability, determine air quality, observe traffic conditions, calculate when the next bus will arrive at a specific stop, and tell residents and visitors whether the surf's up at local beaches. Santander's sensors can alert garbage collectors to full dumpsters, automatically dim streetlights on deserted thoroughfares and manage when parks need irrigating.

Project supervisor Luis Muñoz, a professor at the University of Cantabria in Santander, is particularly proud of the city's ability to monitor parking availability electronically. Display panels, positioned at strategic downtown locations, show the number of available parking spots on every street. "Whenever a car parks on top of one of the magnetic sensors, the field changes," Muñoz says. "The event is detected by the sensor and relayed to the data repository; the information is then displayed on the panels."

All of the city's sensors are linked to a central command and control center. Relevant data is also sent to applications running on residents' smartphones. The apps present real-time information on bus delays, road closures and the current pollen count. Residents can also feed their own data into the system. A concerned citizen can, for example, snap a smartphone photo of a pothole or broken streetlight to notify the local government that there's a problem that needs to be fixed.

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