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May 11, 2017
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Three Things I Learned at Yesterday’s Smart City Conference in Silicon Valley

Yesterday, I got to attend the Next-Generation Smart Cities conference as part of the Smart Cities Week® Silicon Valley show here near our office in Santa Clara.

I attended with Mark Sanders, our Hortonworks account rep who covers SLED (State and Local Government and Education) for the West. Mark travels the western U.S., working with state and local government leaders who are using data to make life in states and cities safer, greener and more convenient.

We were only able to make the third day of the three-day show, but the program featured a fascinating list of interactive discussions on topics like smart water, self-driving cars, and how cities can benefit from breakthroughs in artificial intelligence.

I was able to attend two sessions yesterday:

  • Why and How to Prepare Your City for Self-Driving Cars, and
  • Meeting of the Minds Case Study: The San Diego Regional Smart City Ecosystem

Here are three new things I learned in those sessions about how the public sector is adopting Big Data technologies to capture, store and make use of data:

  1. Self-driving cars: In January of this year, Las Vegas tested an electric, self-driving shuttle on The Strip.
  2. San Diego built IoT into its streetlights: The city has the world’s largest municipal Internet of Things, with sensors in 3,200 lamp posts.
  3. Traffic alleviation: About 30% of urban traffic congestion is caused by drivers searching for a parking spot.

Las Vegas Tested a Driverless, Electric Shuttle Earlier This Year

At the session titled, “Why and How to Prepare Your City for Self-Driving Cars,” one of the panelists was Tracy Larkin-Thomason, Deputy Director at the Nevada Department of Transportation. Tracy mentioned the January pilot of an all-electric, self-driving shuttle that began driving itself on the Las Vegas Strip this past January. This was the first autonomous shuttle to operate in open traffic in the United States, and people sought it out for a ride almost like a tourist attraction.

Source: PressTV —

These types of transportation improvements (municipal and otherwise) are driven by the Connected Car revolution that Hortonworks is helping to drive through our partnerships with most of the world’s largest automakers.

San Diego Partnered with GE to Change the Light Bulbs, While Also Adding 3,200 IoT Sensors In Light Poles

Beginning in 2014, GE partnered with the city of San Diego to replace more than 35,000 streetlights with more efficient LED technologies and build the world’s largest municipal Internet of Things. The project paid for itself almost immediately, yielding an estimated $2.2 million in annual savings. The new LED bulbs use 60 percent less energy and they reduce maintenance costs because they last much longer that the previous bulbs.

But since San Diego was going to be changing the bulbs anyway, city leaders wanted built-in intelligence on what was going on around those light poles. While they installed the LED lights, work crews also retrofitted the 30-foot-tall light poles with advanced sensors. (Privacy advocates need not worry, the sensors just collect metadata; they don’t take your picture or record your license plate.)

Now these light poles make up a distributed data collection and transmission platform that can be used for many benefits other than light. In fact, the upcoming Smart Cities San Diego Hackathon in June will award $3,500 in prize money for the best apps that make use of that streetlight sensor data. If you want to hack, here’s where you register.

One of the other benefits of those sensors is in the area of public safety. From the same article as above:

…one application called ShotSpotter uses the sensors’ sound and light detection capabilities to help law enforcement. “Before they even arrive, first responders know immediately where shots were fired and triangulate where the shooter is, how many shooters there are, which direction they’re shooting in,” [Austin] Ashe [of GE] says. “This is highly valuable information to help cities manage and mitigate crime.”

This San Diego use case reminded me of Hortonworks customer Prescient, who is using HDF and HDP to ingest, store and analyze forty-nine thousand data streams for security threats that might affect travellers. Prescient then provides alerts and notifications to subscribers’ mobile devices so they can avoid unsafe moments and places.

Much of Traffic Congestion Is Caused By Data Scarcity and Resulting Search Costs

And now to the traffic. There’s some debate about whether the number is 30%, or 28% or 45%, but let’s just say a lot of urban traffic congestion is caused not by travel inefficiency but rather by parking inefficiency.

This is a data problem.

Drivers are wandering about, looking for an available parking space. What are those drivers really doing? They’re seeking data on how many parking spots are open and where they are located. That San Diego lamp post IoT network creates the missing data that San Diegans currently drive around to gather.

I didn’t capture the exact quote from yesterday’s talk, but here’s how a recent article on the program described the potential for improving that “circling the block” problem:

“With sensored street lights, you can have more efficient use of your on-street parking,” [said David Graham, San Diego’s deputy chief operating officer.] “You can better sense where cars are, and you can better understand parking and traffic.”

As I listened to the experts talk about all the great things happening in San Diego, it reminded me of similar traffic efficiency benefits enjoyed by Hortonworks customer Metro Transit of St. Louis, whose Smart Bus program powers predictive maintenance on the city’s bus fleet. The impacts on cost and system efficiency have been spectacular:

  • Machine-learning algorithms analyze IoT data streaming off the buses and then tell the bus when to schedule its own maintenance,
  • Operating costs have decreased from 92 cents per mile driven to 43 cents per mile driven,
  • Bus utilization has improved 2x on lifetime mileage with 30% more years of use for those buses.

The Next-Generation Smart Cities event was a happy reminder of the millions of civic applications that are now possible. Technology’s quantum improvement in the ability to generate, ingest, store and analyze data has changed the game for planners in city and state government.

After all, Big Data and streaming analytics are not all about online product recommendations, fraud detection and data warehouse optimization.

These technologies help us enjoy our cities, clean the air and spend less time sitting in traffic.

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