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Unseen, unheard... unappreciated? How hidden IoT can be a liability

Part of the beauty of the internet of things is that so much of it works in the background, quietly and unobtrusively making life better.

But that can actually be a drawback when you’re building a smart city, where stakeholders have to sell solutions to taxpaying residents who will foot the bills — and who may be skeptical of any initiative that can’t be seen, heard or touched during the course of their everyday lives.

This is why it’s important for those stakeholders — such as government and transportation agencies — to include highly visible initiatives early on. Fortunately, the internet of things is meant to make inconvenient or tedious tasks much easier, so city planners won’t have to look far to find solutions that make an impression. Here are some examples of IoT implementations that provide the public with benefits they cannot help but notice.

Parking via smartphone

The city of Westminster, England, used smart technology to take away the physical element of something its residents were accustomed to dealing with: meters for public parking. Not only did the city replace physical meters with the ability to make mobile payments via a smartphone app, that app also shows drivers where available parking spots are. In this way, Westminster turned an annoying task into a frictionless experience.

Tolls without booths

Recognizing that toll plazas along major urban interstate corridors are notorious bottlenecks, states have been removing them in favor of overhead readers and automatic cameras. These systems let drivers pass through at the speed limit and have their prepaid account automatically debited; they can also be linked to law enforcement databases to identify stolen vehicles, increasing the chances for recovery. The same systems can be used with urban infrastructure like bridges, tunnels and public parking — anywhere a resident might expect to be delayed while paying for a toll or ticket — decreasing time spent waiting and eliminating a common aggravation.

Digitizing trash collection

Any city service can benefit from virtualization, even garbage collection. A study by ResearchGate demonstrates the extent to which linked networks can improve efficiency. Smart bins can report how full they are, feeding information to public and private collection agencies so they can design routes that service areas based on level of need. Cameras can monitor problem areas and alert officials when there has been illegal dumping, allowing for quick dispatch of cleaning crews and providing police with images of vehicles and suspects. All of these networks can be synced with area landfills and recycling centers to monitor capacity. Residents will receive improved trash collection without the need for increasing the city budget.

Savings without sacrifice

Perhaps the most important benefit that residents will see from smart solutions is a financial one, because IoT solutions lead to reduced costs. When infrastructure is virtualized, it doesn’t have to be maintained or replaced; when services can be obtained online, less office space needs to be rented. Money and personnel can be redirected to more critical needs without having to increase budgets. This is true whether it’s eliminating losses to fraud by implementing mobile payments; reassigning workers from ticket-selling windows to understaffed areas by implementing mobile ticketing; or reducing maintenance budgets by virtualizing support infrastructure and eliminating old equipment with costly upkeep.

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said in 1973 that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” IoT is certainly that advanced, but the problem is the vast majority of people don’t believe in magic. That’s why using this technology in highly visible ways is so important. Not only will removing infrastructure and virtualizing services make life noticeably easier for residents, it will also demonstrate wise stewardship of public resources and drive support for other, less-obvious applications like smart metering, smart traffic signals, smart street lights and more.

That’s how you win over the public to smart solutions — no magic required.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.