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Smart Watch, Smart Home, Smart City – How the Internet of Things Helps Shape the Future

Electronic devices are getting smarter each day: We use Smart Watches that don’t just tell us what time it is, but also make sure that we get enough exercise while staying up to date with the latest news from our Social Media feeds. We live in Smart Homes that let us check if there is still milk in our fridge while we’re at the grocery store or that let us control the heating system via remote so that the living room is warm and cozy when we get home from work.

All these applications have one thing in common: all devices within these applications are connected over the Internet – the current buzzword here is “Internet of Things” (IoT). Of course there is more to IoT than “just” Smart Home applications. Did you know that there are even Smart Cities? In this article we use a traffic application as an example to demonstrate the power of connected devices and how we can benefit from them.

Here’s the story:

you are just about to drive downtown for an important meeting or appointment. You want to check the parking situation in the area you are visiting. How do you find out?

Well, in the future you might be able to use an app on your phone. It will ask you where you want to go. It then calls up pictures of the parking spaces in the area and checks if cars are occupying them or not. When it finds a free space it will inform you. Maybe it will return a probability that there will be a free spot when you get there (factoring in your driving time) or maybe if local facilities permit, you can reserve the spot somehow. This is just one possible application of a “Smart City” with networked cameras.

How do you get the cameras everywhere and then connect them to the cloud?

The camera itself is only the outer edge of any cloud system. It converts the photons into electrons and counts them (for more details check out How does a digital camera work? ). The camera then returns an image. In the worst case we’re talking about 10 million pixels at 30 frames per second. That’s a lot of data. You don’t want to send it all into the cloud, because that would take too long (and depending on the business model of your cloud services supplier, it could also be very costly). So you want to process it on the edge, just “behind” the camera. One solution here to keep that processing event small and discrete is to use an embedded processing board. Call it the brain of the system, which figures out what you’re actually looking for (in our example a parking space and the presence or non-presence of a vehicle on it). For more technical details about these boards, have a look at our Vision Campus article about different processing boards. To see if it is a car or something else moveable you could use a neural network.

This “brain” has then figured out if there is a free parking space or not. It sends a signal to the cloud service to inform it. It would do this every time the state changes (car present, no car present). When you start your app it would contact this cloud and, giving it GPS coordinates, ask for the status of the nearest parking spaces. It would show you a selection and ask them to send you a single still of the “space”. Maybe the space is too small for your car (or your parking abilities). You choose. When you’ve chosen a parking space in your app it could send a message to the cloud to “reserve the space”. The cloud contacts the site and maybe drives a bollard up to reserve it until you get there – or turns on a reserved sign at the space. This is one example of many possibilities in a Smart City.

Smart City is only one example market of many in the Internet of Things. Stripped of the hype, IoT is just a collection of sensors connected to the cloud (or Internet). The camera, the board, the red sign and your phone are the things that are connected. Clearly there are many more challenges here which would have to be solved before it becomes reality. However, it’s a concept for a Smart City where cameras are not for surveillance, but to do something useful for you.

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