Crowds can be counted with video sensors but also by counting the number of smartphones and tablets connected to a Wi-Fi zone in an area, Cisco said.
Crowd data could also be used to automatically call for more buses or cabs to show up nearby. Using multiple data sets, traffic staff could access environmental sensor data to find ways to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, while improving emergency response times, Cisco said.
"For smart cities, we need to … make it super-simple for cities to securely connect new 'things' so that new information can be collected, analyzed and shared," said Cisco Senior Vice President Rowan Trollope in a blog.
Khetrapal said cities can save million of dollars with Cisco's platform over building their own networks to connect data from sensors with servers. In the example of a service to monitor parking spaces, he estimated it would cost between $1 to $1.10 per day per parking space to install sensors and securely maintain the network. For a parking garage with 1,000 spaces, that would be about $365,000 annually.
Cisco will not produce the sensors and is working with dozens of partners that make them. Cisco will certify the capabilities of various sensors and will help city officials pick the sensors they need, Khetrapal said. The company is also working with infrastructure and wireless network providers, including AT&T, Sprint, Deutsche Telekom and engineering, consulting and infrastructure company Black & Veatch.
Cisco also will partner with IBM in providing its platform to cities, with IBM providing analytics software. "Cisco's uniqueness is the ability to connect and converge multiple [network and device] protocols," Khetrepal said.
Steve Hilton, an analyst at Mach Nation, said Cisco's smart city platform approach will help cities aggregate data that affects their operations to help improve efficiencies and long-term planning.
"Most cities are incredibly in silos where things like parking and traffic and waste management are separate systems," he said. "It's hard to get most cities to connect everything together at one time, yet that's the holy grail for smart cities."
Vendors like Cisco, meanwhile, must prove a return on investment for cities using smart technology that is derived from lower electricity and water usage, or even reduced crime, Hilton said.
The best ROI in smart city projects has come from installing energy-efficient streetlights that can be automatically dimmed at appropriate times, Hilton said. Yet, getting cities to add more sensors to a citywide network is a slow and deliberate process.
"Cities can't do everything at once," he added. "Cities will catch up, but it won't happen overnight."
Even Cisco's Trollope admitted that smart city returns are slow going. "Results won't come overnight, but change will happen faster than you might expect," he blogged.
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