Data sensors, out with the old and in with the new 

Sensors of the past that are still put to use today are often always on, and it can be challenging to collect, store and interpret the tremendous amount of data they create. The Internet of Things (IoT) is making it easier for information to be collected and analyzed. The IoT is an interconnection via the Internet from computing devices which are embedded in objects so they can send and receive data.

The sensors of today come with an analytics system which can help by integrating event-monitoring, storage and analytics software. The system on a data sensor has three parts: the sensors that monitor events in real-time, a scalable data store and an analytics engine.

Sensors have improved in capability, efficiency and cost and this allows organizations to be more aware and empowered and to intelligently react to factors such as past performance metrics, configuration and calibration conditions, input-to-output rates, predicted failure intervals and environmental impact.

In several cities throughout the U.S. this technology is playing an important role in improving the quality of life of citizens, enhancing government transparency and trust and improving environmental and economic sustainability. This is particularly true in cities where budgets are constrained and population growth rates continue to rise.

The city of Las Vegas is installing a traffic-monitoring system that uses technology to help determine how well vehicles are moving and monitors the state of traffic signals. Sensors will be installed at 2,300 intersections and across the region’s multi-jurisdiction corridors to provide the city and drivers a better perspective on traffic.

The city will be able to monitor sensors from their traffic control center where engineers can change traffic-signal timing, check various streets and intersections and analyze trends in real-time. The sensors are also equipped to communicate with autonomous cars. These vehicles will have access to real-time traffic light data so they know when to stop or slow down. The system can also tell cars and drivers the best speed along a stretch of road to ensure that they can proceed through the maximum number of green lights.

While Las Vegas attempts to ease traffic, Chicago is calculating its rainwater through a new pilot project that combines sensors and cloud computing. Sensors are already in place at three locations to measure rainwater running downhill.

The tool is aimed to reduce urban flooding and prevent millions of dollars in subsequent property damage. These sensors can record, among other things, precipitation amounts, humidity levels, soil moisture measurements, air pressure levels, and chemical absorption rates. Planners and engineers in Chicago hope to collect data that will help them produce and manage green infrastructure.

Texas is also keeping track of its water levels to better manage the flood plain along the Colorado River basin. The Lower Colorado River Authority built a network of 275 connected river sensors, called Hydromet. The sensors provide near-real-time data on stream flow, river stage, rainfall totals, temperature and humidity.

In July, LCRA received a $650,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to investigate better sensor technologies and software needed to relay information and alerts during a flood. The goal is to find high-tech sensors at a reasonable cost that can be rugged enough to last in outdoor conditions.

Another goal for LCRA is to have sensors that might be able to help emergency responders geo-target the smartphones of Texans who live in areas where flooding is likely to occur.

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Feds grant $65M for technologically advanced transportation

Grants will help fight congestion, increase connectivity and improve access to opportunity

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced $65 million in grants to 19 communities for advanced technology transportation projects at the recent White House Frontiers Conference on the future of innovation. One focus of the conference was on how new transportation innovations are transforming American cities.

“From automated vehicles to connected infrastructure to data analytics, technology is transforming how we move around our country, and some of the most exciting innovation is happening at the local level,” said Foxx. “These grants will enable cities and rural communities to harness new technologies to tackle hard problems like reducing congestion, connecting people to mass transit and enhancing safety.”

Grantees are expected to leverage the funds to provide for $170 million in projects associated with smart city technologies. Projects will improve the efficiency of highway systems and integrate new mobility tools.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in New York will receive $7.8 million for its connected vehicle program. The program will use multiple communication methods to alert truckers to border wait times and available parking. The program is designed to reduce congestion in the Buffalo-Niagara area.

The city and county of San Francisco, Calif., will receive about $11 million for the Smart City Connected program. The project combines tolling for the Bay Bridge with incentives for high occupancy vehicles and other congestion-reducing efforts.

Valley Metro Rail of Phoenix, Ariz., will receive $1 million to implement a smart phone mobility platform that includes mobile ticketing and multimodal trip planning. The app will integrate with ride-hailing, bike sharing and car sharing companies.

The city of Palo Alto, Calif., will receive $1.1 million for a commuter planning project. The program will include integrated trip reduction software, a multi-modal trip planning app and workplace parking rebates.

The grants are being awarded through two U.S. Department of Transportation initiatives: the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment program run by the Federal Highway Administration, and the Mobility on Demand Sandbox program overseen by the Federal Transit Administration.

A total of $300 million was awarded at the Frontiers Conference in various areas of innovation. Brain research initiatives received $70 million, precision medicine projects received $16 million, small satellite technology projects received $50 million and  $165 million in public and private funds went to support cities in using technology to solve issues. Click here for details.

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Postal service develops smart cities projects

With the rise of digital communication over the last two decades, it might be easy to forget just how essential the U.S. Postal Service has been in developing the nation. Under the constitutional mandate to establish post offices and post roads, the formation of the postal service created not only dependable communication; it also provided for a transportation infrastructure.

Now, the postal service seems to be renewing its pioneering spirit with innovative smart city pilot projects. The programs would outfit mail carrier vehicles to collect an array of data. Vehicles could be equipped to detect potholes and safety issues in bridges, monitor air quality and leaking pipes and identify blight.

iot-postalAs cities around the country develop smart city initiatives to utilize data to improve the quality of life for citizens, the postal service seeks to provide possible solutions. The postal service has a vast infrastructure of carriers, vehicles, post offices and mailboxes that could facilitate the collection of multiple types of data for local governments.

In a Sept. 26 report from the USPS Office of Inspector General, the agency described interviews with city, university and private-sector stakeholders involved in smart city projects and identified five potential pilot projects.

“The OIG believes that these projects represent a substantial opportunity for the postal service to better utilize its assets, promote the public good, generate goodwill and possibly generate new revenue,” the report states. “The postal service can also participate in and help shape the national smart cities conversation.”

If adopted, projects like those identified could help the postal service strengthen its role as a national multi-connected infrastructure. The postal network covers every community nationwide and its vehicles travel down almost every road, including roads that city and county vehicles may not regularly cover. The network would allow data to be generated nationally, regionally, locally or along a specific route.

In Pittsburgh, the postal service has proposed two projects. The first would assess road conditions by analyzing images with vehicle-mounted cameras. City officials could catch cracks before they became potholes using software created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for that purpose.

A second pilot project to monitor bridge conditions in Pittsburgh would also be done in collaboration with CMU. Researchers are testing accelerometers to collect vibration data that can be used to analyze the structural condition of bridges. The postal service would install the devices on vehicles which frequently travel across the city’s bridges to collect data that researchers will use to fine-tune the analyses.

A pilot project in Montgomery County, Md., would help manage water infrastructure by identifying lack of pressure and leaks. Pressure sensors installed in fire hydrants and acoustic sensors on water pipes can detect problems, but there is a difficulty in transmitting the problems to the water department. Gateways installed in passing postal vehicles could pick up alerts from sensors and transmit the data to officials.

Urban blight in the New York Capital Region could be identified early by postal carriers in a fourth pilot project. Carriers could use an app to report potential problems like vacant or distressed properties to officials in the cities of the region. Cities could then send out inspectors for an official investigation.

The last pilot project would monitor air quality in Portland, Ore. The city would like to monitor the impact changes to its transportation infrastructure have on air quality. Mobile sensors could be installed in postal vehicles to monitor air quality.

Postal service officials are working to answer questions about data ownership, privacy, security and business models before any of the projects can be implemented. A number of other projects in more nascent stages are also being considered. No matter which projects are eventually adopted, there is no question the ubiquity of the postal service is a national resource that should not be ignored as the use of data to improve public services continues to evolve.

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Road to Zero Coalition plans to end traffic fatalities

Federal agencies have partnered with the nonprofit National Safety Council to launch a program with a mission to end traffic fatalities within 30 years. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have created the Road to Zero coalition with $1 million per year in funding from the Department of Transportation.

“Our vision is simple – zero fatalities on our roads,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We know that setting the bar for safety to the highest possible standard requires commitment from everyone to think differently about safety– from drivers to industry, safety organizations and government at all levels.”

Agencies report that 2015 had the largest increase in traffic deaths since 1966 and the estimates for 2016 are already on track to surpass 2015. The coalition will promote proven strategies as well as develop a new vision on how to achieve their mission of zero fatalities.

Improving seat belt use, placing rumble strips and other successful tactics will continue to be priorities. However, it is the deployment of automated vehicles and other technologies that give coalition members hope that the goal of zero fatalities is achievable within the next 30 years.

“The “4Es” – Education, Engineering, Enforcement and Emergency Medical Services provide a reliable roadmap for driving down fatalities. Coupled with new technologies and innovative approaches to mobility, we may now hold the keys that get us to zero,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

The Road to Zero Coalition plans to focus on overall system design, addressing infrastructure design, vehicle technology, enforcement and behavior safety. One of the group’s guiding principles is to find ways to ensure human mistakes do not result in fatalities.

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