With IoT, air quality in Glasgow gets smart

Glasgow's Sensing the City pilot project uses the Libelium IoT Sensor node as a low-cost, mobile monitoring technology to help reduce pollution.

Against the backdrop of lofty, inspirational talk about smart cities of the future, the real work gets done in small increments and test projects. The city of Glasgow, Scotland, is just one in a growing number of examples that showcase how the internet of things is set to transform the urban landscape as we know it.

Population increases, congestion and increasing attention to sustainability, and environmental factors are among the top reasons prompting cities to rethink everything from energy services to infrastructure by implementing sensor networks and other IoT technology. Navigant Research forecasted the global smart city technology market to more than double from $36.8 billion in revenue in 2016 to $88.7 billion by 2025, with the North American smart city sector specifically set to surge from $10.9 billion in 2016 to $23.1 billion by 2025.

Thanks to IoT, air quality monitoring more efficient

For the city of Glasgow, finding a more economical way to monitor air quality as part of an effort to meet regulatory standards and reduce emissions and pollution was the mission of one of its more prominent IoT projects. The "Sensing the City" initiative, a collaboration between the University of Strathclyde Institute for Future Cities and the industry-led Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems (CENSIS), was an effort to complement existing high-cost static sensing stations with a low-cost mobile offering that would help address gaps in coverage. CENSIS is tasked with using sensor and imaging technology to foster developments in Scotland across a variety of markets, including aerospace, healthcare, manufacturing and life sciences.

"Countries throughout the world have a need and, in many cases, a legal obligation, to ensure air quality is meeting specific standards," explained Gavin Burrows, CENSIS project manager. "[Existing static stations] provide highly accurate data, but their cost limits the quantity of deployments. Low-cost systems can be deployed flexibly and rapidly in mobile configurations to complement static stations. This can provide indicative IoT air quality data in areas without coverage in order to support identification of pollution sources." In addition, mobile systems collect data in the volume necessary for comparing pollution models and identifying trends, Burrows said, adding that such a form factor is well-suited for deployment at scale.

The Sensing the City proof-of-concept mobile IoT air quality sensor network consists of three key components: A sensor node, used to collect data and manage sensors tracking carbon monoxide, particulate matter, temperature, humidity and pressure; a sensor hub that picks up data from the node, along with GPS location data, and uploads and manages it in a cloud database; and a web-based user interface for visualizing data that is the focal point for interacting with the cloud services. Components were packaged up and mounted into suitcase-sized boxes and strapped to the roof of University of Strathclyde vehicles to achieve mobility.

Building an IoT air quality system -- and beyond

CENSIS went with the Libelium Waspmote Plug & Sense sensor platform as the sensor node, primarily because of its modularity and flexibility, thanks to its open source architecture, Burrows said. "The Plug & Sense offering is fully modular in terms of the sensors it can accommodate and the wireless technologies it supports," he explained, specifically citing its ability to work with a spectrum of short-range and lower-power radio options, including those based on 802.15.4 and the LoRaWAN standard.

Phase 2 will expand the project into other smart city applications, including monitoring road conditions, traffic management and energy conservation of buildings. In July 2016, CENSIS installed a wireless IoT network in Glasgow covering 12 kilometers around the city to support connected devices such as building monitors, IoT air quality and pollution sensors, and social care devices used to foster independent living. That network is being enhanced with geolocation capabilities, providing a lower-power and less-expensive way to connect previously siloed devices and establish an IoT infrastructure that can support new business models. Given the Scottish government's attraction to IoT, Burrows sees many more smart city projects to come.

"Over the past 18 months, Glasgow has been developing a series of initiatives to showcase the potential offered by smart city technology, with the goal of making life in the city safer, smarter and more sustainable," Burrows said.

Next Steps

Learn more about the possibilities and benefits of IoT in smart cities

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