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Through our experience and methodologies in supporting our customers during their IoT journey, we have uncovered some of the most popular smart city use cases that our customers find the most important. 

As we have demonstrated previously in several articles and white papers, one of the critical components to prioritizing and categorizing IoT use cases is understanding the drivers, motivators, reasons and potential barriers or challenges in delivering on them. Below are 11 smart city use cases that range in complexity and impact across our proven customer solutions and deployments.

1. License plate recognition (LPR)

Law enforcement agencies throughout the nation are increasingly adopting automated license plate recognition (ALPR) technologies to enhance their enforcement and investigative capabilities, expand their collection of relevant data and expedite the tedious and time-consuming process of manually comparing vehicle license plates with lists of stolen, wanted and other vehicles of interest.

ALPR systems function to automatically capture an image of the vehicle's license plate, transform that image into alphanumeric characters using optical character recognition or similar software, compare the plate number acquired to one or more databases of vehicles of interest to law enforcement and other agencies and to alert the officer when a vehicle of interest has been observed. The automated capture, analysis and comparison of vehicle license plates typically occurs within seconds, alerting the officer and dispatcher almost immediately when a wanted plate is observed.

LPR use case
License plate recognition (LPR) use case

2. Traffic management & analytics (car/people counting)

Traffic cameras are an innovative and extremely functional use of video surveillance technology. They're atop traffic signals, along busy roads and at busy intersections of the highway. Whether they're recording traffic patterns for future study and observation or monitoring traffic, video cameras are a very popular form of city-wide video surveillance.

There are a few distinct advantages of traffic surveillance cameras:

  • Commuters – Traffic cameras placed at common congestion points on highways, freeways, interstates and major arteries often share feeds with government and news agencies, which in turn pass them onto commuters in the form of traffic reports. Normally, traffic flows do not vary much from day to day, but in the event of a severe accident or road closure, a traffic alert can be extremely valuable for a time-crunched commuter.
  • DataTraffic cameras that simply monitor car flows on roads and major arteries are often maintained by cities, counties and departments of transportation. Along with monitoring the roads for accidents or major closures, footage from traffic cameras is influential in decisions regarding future road development and construction.
  • Laws – Cameras used to capture metadata related to speed and red-light laws are effective in properly planning the deployment of public safety personnel.
  • Safety – Visible surveillance cameras posted at intersections can encourage safe driving habits and discourage moving violations.
Traffic management, people and car counting use case
Traffic management, people and car counting use case

3. City park safety monitoring

Everybody loves the park. What's better than beautiful sunshine, colorful flowers, big shade trees, fresh air and tons of people just enjoying life? Unfortunately, city parks have a tendency to become a hotspot for illicit activities, especially under the cover of night. That is why many cities are installing security systems in and around their parks. The park should be a bright spot – something the entire community can be proud of. 

Security cameras in city parks allow police officers and other authorized city officials to view the camera at any time of the day or night to make sure the parks are safe and in good order. Security camera systems for city parks allow remote connectivity for authorized users, which can help ensure that the parks children play in are safe and secure.

A few key components of a security camera system for city park would include IoT Gateways with recording capabilities, which are able to record video on-board and transmit on-demand via Fiber connection or Cellular 4G/LTE and 5G. These systems are paired with HD/high-megapixel IP cameras, panoramic 360-degree cameras and HD Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) cameras that all help monitor the city parks 24/7.

Edge compute, Universal IoT Gateway and edge analytics
Edge compute, universal IoT Gateway and edge analytics

The playground is a young kid's favorite place, but this area can pose many dangers if it is not secured property. Like the rest of a city campus, the playground should be thoroughly inspected by administrators to ensure children's safety. A well-rounded security system implements technology with other preventive measures to keep the playground a happy, secure space where kids can be kids. Supervision is arguably the most important step that administrators can take to secure a playground.

As part of a city surveillance system, cameras can provide an element of safety for children. Security personnel can monitor the area remotely to look for any suspicious persons or activity around the children. If a child gets hurt or an altercation occurs, city administrators can review this footage to view the incident and act accordingly.

Mobile edge compute, video analytics and safety
Mobile edge compute, video analytics and safety

4. Waste management solution (smart trash can)

Most waste collection operators empty containers according to predefined schedules. This is not a very efficient approach since it leads to the unproductive use of waste containers and unnecessary fuel consumption by waste collecting trucks.

IoT-enabled smart city solutions help to optimize waste collecting schedules by tracking waste levels, as well as providing route optimization and operational analytics. Each waste container gets a sensor that gathers the data about the level of the waste in a container. Once it is close to a certain threshold, the waste management solution receives a sensor record, processes it and sends a notification to a truck driver's mobile app. Thus, the truck driver empties a full container, avoiding emptying half-full ones.

Refuse sensors, edge compute and real-time alerts
Refuse sensors, edge compute and real-time alerts

5. Soil moisture sensor and sprinkler system optimization

It's time for a little feedback from the roots. With the new LORA-WAN enabled Soil Moisture sensors, an irrigation controller is directly linked to the absolute moisture requirements of a site's vegetation. When the sensor detects dry conditions, the next scheduled watering cycle is allowed. 

If a site's soil moisture level is above the threshold, the irrigation cycle is suspended. There are just two basic components: an in-ground sensor and a user interface in the cloud to enable remote operators, usually from public works department, to control watering cycles remotely.

Soil sensor example
Soil sensor example

6. Prevention of illegal dumping

Illegal dumping, or illegal garbage disposal, is a major problem that hinders the development of any city. Now, a security company has come up with a mobile surveillance solution that can monitor the streets and help authorities catch those who are engaging in illegal waste dumping.

Approximately 100 million tons of illegal garbage is lying around the United States, as mentioned by Let's Do It, an organization that helps clean up illegal dumping sites. The US is affected by this problem in both rural areas and big cities. Illegal dumping is a serious issue that affects the safety of the community and the environment.

Illegally dumping on city streets and neighborhoods, parks and creeks not only pollutes the environment, but also damages the city's reputation and creates crime and safety problems. 

Many cities are implementing a surveillance approach utilizing high-end video analytics to properly detect and apprehend criminals involved in this illegal dumping activity. Videos of dumping incidents, including their license plates, are reviewed by police and successfully investigated. Copies of the videos are then delivered to county prosecutors for prosecution under most state littering laws.

Illegal dumping, revenue generation and enforcement
Illegal dumping, revenue generation and enforcement

7. Virtual tours (Bluetooth beacons)

Beacons leverage Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) technology to power location-based services and way-finding, as well as proximity-aware push notifications at enterprises, stadiums, hospitals and other public venues. The ability to customize the placement of beacons ensures a highly engaged citizen's experience.

These small, low-power wireless transmitters broadcast radio signals at regular intervals that can be heard and interpreted by iOS and Android devices equipped with mobile apps that help guide specific activities, such as virtual-tours of landmarks. Beacons allow cities to remotely manage their content, and often include battery-backup solutions for beacons placed in strategic locations.

Kiosks, BLE and customer engagement
Kiosks, BLE and customer engagement

8. Air quality monitoring

Urbanization and economic and population growth have resulted in large increases in vehicle use, industrial activities and energy consumption in cities around the world, leading to pervasive urban air pollution. For city officials to fully understand and improve air quality conditions, pollutants must be accurately measured, monitored and managed. 

Currently most cities measure air pollution using a collection of large environmental monitoring stations. These stations are accurate in measuring air quality data, but their high cost often limits the quantity of deployments, resulting in gaps in coverage. They are also static and may not capture the local nature of harmful pollution within city environments.

The growth of the IoT industry is presenting new possibilities for air quality monitoring and management for smart cities. Recent advances in sensor communication, such as LORA-WAN technology, has led to air quality monitoring solutions that are wireless, far smaller in size, less expensive and more localized compared to legacy systems.

Real-time and location-based air quality monitoring allows citizens making better and more informed choices about how they spend their time indoors or outdoors. Connected devices will be better equipped to help clean the air in people's immediate environments to help reduce people's exposure to harmful air pollutants.

Air quality sensing
Air quality sensing

9. Thermal camera monitoring of overheating transformers

For cities and utility companies, finding new ways to avert costly failures in their facilities is practically second nature. Particularly when it comes to industrial maintenance, thermography testing is one approach that's become much more popular over the years. Used as a condition-monitoring technique, thermal video imaging enables users to identify potential areas of equipment failure and limit downtime.

Thermal camera monitoring
Thermal camera monitoring

10. Copper theft monitoring (communication cabinets/vaults)

Copper theft continues to afflict cities all across North America and it can happen in the most difficult and remote places to protect: vacant lots, remote city lighting, pump stations, water wells, irrigation systems, rural substations and critical infrastructure, abandoned plants and many other locations.

Intelligent video surveillance systems offer a practical, efficient resolution to this problem. After setting up a "virtual" perimeter around the fence or area at risk, video analytics technology provides true object orientation and recognition, along with real-time alerts that can prevent the theft.

Should a dog wander into this perimeter or trash be blown in it, the system differentiates those objects from real criminal activity. If a suspicious man approaches the area, the system detects the size and orientation immediately, and triggers an event within the system. 

At the dispatch center, or perhaps the utility control center, an alert will sound and a red box appears on a video monitor that draws attention to the violated area. Personnel double-click on the red box to instantly review video of the man entering the gate while simultaneously watching the perpetrator real-time in a second window. Security uses this information to take the appropriate countermeasure.

11. Vegetation management (single snapshot archive)

Tree contact with transmission lines is a leading cause of electric power outages and a common cause of past regional blackouts, including the August 2003 blackout that affected 50 million people in the Northeast United States and Canada.

Following the 2003 blackout and subsequent federal legislation, the Commission designated the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) as the Electric Reliability Organization (ERO), with the responsibility to develop and enforce standards to ensure the reliability of the Bulk Power System, including the Reliability Standard that addresses vegetation management covering tree trimming on rights-of-way, FAC-003-4. Electric service reliability and public safety require clearance between trees and transmission lines in the right-of-way be maintained at all times. 

A city-wide video surveillance can be configured to upload video frames to a centralized "vegetation management" system every day. Armed with this information, utility companies can easily assess the vegetation state around power lines, all done remotely via a web portal or other video client.

Vegetation management
Vegetation management


Through our proven methodologies, our workshops and end-to-end solutions solving real city problems, WWT has delivered on valuable use cases resulting in measurable success for our customers. 

From new lines of revenue, to automating and notifying staff of illegal dumping or providing data to improve traffic flows or improved safety measures for pedestrians and bicyclists, World Wide Technology continues to show case real-world solutions to solve real-world problems. Stay up to date with the latest from the industry by following our IoT topic, or contact us to talk more about what use cases fit your needs.