[NOTE: This is an extended version of the published article (July 31, 2015) in the Star Online entitled “Better City Better World”]
What is Internet of Things (IoT)?
Many people ask me this question, “What is Internet of Things?”. Rather than giving them a technical answer regarding the different sensors, wireless technologies, and big data analytics, let’s begin with the reason why it’s very important to know, for example, the condition of our assets, what’s going on in that location and why the need to share that information.
Humans have a multitude of senses. Sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch are the five traditionally recognized senses. We love to share our experiences in life such as our recent trip to an exotic place, eating one of the best delicacies in town, watching the latest movie, frustration in driving in a congested area, the unpredictable weather and much more.
Typically, we will share these experiences with our close friends and families when we physically meet. That’s how we traditionally socialize during the pre-smartphone and pre-Internet days.
However, with the advent of computers, smartphones, and Internet, everything has changed. The best substitute for physical contact and sharing is via the Internet. The ability to connect and share our experiences with friends, families and even strangers has transformed the way we socialize.
Increasing popularity of social media apps
Now, we have various social media applications that will help to extend our five traditional senses to the next level via the smartphones. For example, we check-in to our favourite place with Swarm or Foursquare application and willingly share this check-ins with our contacts. With the help of two simple sensors – GPS (sense of location) and camera (sense of sight), it will either help us to identify that place for another return trip or it will help others who wish to find that unique place.
Those who love to share photos will use Instagram (with food photos topping the list often times!!). It’s like your extended “eye” (camera) that captures moments in your life.
Twitter users not only love to tweet but also listen to other tweets. They are actually extending their “ears” to all the chats. This includes apps like WeChat and Whatsapp.
There’s also another channel which many are turning to convey their frustrations, ideas, and feelings. These emotions and thoughts are extended through Facebook.
Photos are captured; locations are geo-tagged and stored automatically using digital diaries such as Day One, HeyDay and Chronos. Lifeloggers love these apps as they are an easy way to recall all those memorable moments some day in the future.
Waze is another great example that helps users to share their traffic status. What they get in return – the full traffic status of the city and the ability to pick the right routes and the right time to travel so that they can avoid traffic congestion.
So, what has all of the above got to do with Internet of Things (IoT)? The smartphone is one of the best examples of an IoT device. If we carry a smartphone, for example, we become a multi-sensor IoT ‘thing,’ and many of our day-to-day activities can be tracked, analyzed and acted upon.
Any devices or things, if embedded with the right sensors and connectivity, will give us a better power to sense. In this case, the smartphone will help to extend the human senses.
And with that power to sense, we will be able to answer the following questions – What if we can have our home to sense smoke, motion and sight? What if we are able to know the availability of car parks of the places that we want to visit? What if we can monitor and control the usage of our building electricity? What if we can track the whereabouts of our public transport such as buses, taxis or trains? What if we can have an extended “eye” that monitors the traffic condition of the city?
Engaging citizens with crowdsensing
One of the main challenges of mobile telcos is to source great contents. But nowadays with cell phones, they will just allow the mobile users to create their own contents and share with each other. This is called “User-Generated Contents or UGC,” whereby, the users generate their own contents of their interests. We have seen this trend with the current social media platforms such as Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Flickr, Youtube, Whatsapp and much more.
In the business world, websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo are popular websites that help users to generate their own funds. There are two groups of people – one who intend to find money to fund new ideas and another group willing to invest and support the project but in return, will be the first to get their hands on the product which is cheaper than normal retail price when it’s offered to the public. This is called “crowdfunding.”
Another term that is becoming more popular with the emergence of IoT is “crowdsensing.” This term refers to the sharing of data collected by sensing devices with the aim to measure phenomena of common interests. Sensing devices may include, for example, smartphones, sensor embedded gaming systems, music players, and in-vehicle sensor devices. But the most popular crowdsensing device is the smartphone. No surprises there!
Crowdsensing has also become a new business model which allows this large number of mobile phones to be used not only for exchanging information between their users but also for activities that may have a huge societal impact.
Crowdsensing applications are particularly attractive to organizations because they can provide the organizations with valuable data without the need to make significant investments. In fact, it has reignited citizen engagement with their government authorities, opening up new perspectives for cost-effective ways of making local communities and cities more sustainable, livable and safe.
With the ability to acquire local knowledge such as the location, personal and surrounding context, noise level, traffic conditions and noise pollution through sensor-enhanced mobile devices, it opens up many possibilities to share this knowledge within the social sphere, among practitioners, health care providers, urban planners and utility providers such as local councils.
Better citizen engagement to build smarter cities
Cities are meant to be liveable, productive and sustainable. It is expected that half of the population of Asia will be living in cities by 2020. Many people have either migrated or prefer working in the cities, but the pace of development is unable to cope with the demand of the citizens.
Citizens have been complaining about many things, and the authorities have tried hard to solve these problems. But the citizens still felt that respond is still too slow. Many countries are now embarking on smart city projects. A smart city uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance its livability, workability, and sustainability
A smart city spans a wide variety of use cases, from traffic management to water distribution, to waste management, urban security, and environmental monitoring. Its popularity is fueled by the fact that many smart city solutions promise to alleviate real pains of people living in cities these days. IoT solutions in the area of the smart city will help to solve traffic congestion problems, reduce noise and pollution and help make cities safer.
Using the personal smartphone as the crowdsensing device, we can develop mobile applications such as the soon-to-be-launched CitiAct by REDtone that empower citizens to identify city problems such as:
- Road conditions such as potholes, blocked roads, dangerous corners etc
- Traffic lights that are faulty or are improperly timed
- Accidents or hazards on roads
- Location of dirty rivers
- Dumping of rubbish into rivers
- Improper hawkers blocking roads
- Reckless motorists or those who use emergency lanes to overtake
- Bus drivers who drive recklessly
- Inconsiderate parking
- Dirty hawkers or restaurants
- Garbage trucks that do not collect garbage properly or not doing their rounds
- Blocked drains, fallen trees
- High potential crime areas
These reports can be channeled automatically to the relevant parties. There are three parts to that job – collecting, communicating and “crunching.” First, a smart city receives information about itself through sensors, other devices, and existing systems. Next, it transmits that data using wired or wireless networks. Thirdly, it “crunches” (analyses) that data to understand what’s happening now and what’s likely to happen next.
Malaysia unveiled its National Internet of Things Strategic Roadmap in 2015. To realize the vision of the roadmap – “Malaysia to be the Regional IoT Development Hub”, we must be able to identify an iconic project for the country. We believe Smart City is one of them. The scale of the project will identify and bring various stakeholders together. It will not only create new jobs but also make our cities a better place to live.