The digital society is on the rise. Increasing numbers of towns and cities are switching to the smart society by introducing sensors, intelligent systems and analysing big data. People have become accustomed to being online everywhere, being able to work from home and being contacted in an increasingly personal way. But they often don’t realise that there are also countless pieces of infrastructure and other objects connected to a digital backbone. Because a smart society can only exist if there is a smart digital network to support it.
For various reasons, everyday things such as bridges, bus shelters, traffic lights and street lighting are connected as part of an overall digital, open infrastructure. It might be for safety or security reasons, but there’s a good dose of functionality and efficiency in there, too. Although few people ever stop to think about it, these large-scale connections provide a great many benefits. For example, more information can be gathered and processed in real-time so that specific actions can be taken automatically. Take the lighting along a cycle path, for instance. By combining a smart digital network and intelligent technology, the lights along the path can be programmed to come on as soon as (and only when) movement is detected. That way the lights don’t have to burn all night long. This results in a significant cut to operating costs, increases safety (and security) and is better for the environment.
Send more data, faster
A few years ago, the energy companies began replacing the copper wire networks between power stations with optical fiber, creating what are known as ‘smart grids’. These smart grids not only make it possible to switch to another power station within three milliseconds if a problem occurs, but homes with solar panels can also use them to feed power back to the energy companies, while retaining the availability of the electricity grid. Out on the roads there is also a smart fiber optic network in place that helps regulate traffic flows by synchronising the countless traffic lights to avoid queues from forming. The same lightning-fast fiber connections also provide remote opening and closing of bridges and locks to keep the traffic moving smoothly on our waterways. And when an ambulance needs to get to and from an accident in an emergency, bridges can be closed remotely, traffic lights changed and matrix signs operated so that the other road-users know that an ambulance will be passing in a few seconds’ time. All of which helps keep the road open – and in some cases, it can be a matter of life or death.
Safety and convenience
More and more bus shelters are being connected to fiber optics, too. This provides a dual benefit: not only can travel information be kept up to date, but passengers can also use the shelter as a wi-fi hotspot. And while you may still see paper posters, the future will bring LED screens displaying moving advertisements – some even aimed personally at the waiting travellers.
Local security is provided partly by the countless surveillance cameras positioned everywhere. Unfortunately, the images generated by these cameras are not always of a very high quality, which can harm their usefulness. But connecting the camera system to a digital infrastructure not only means that higher-quality cameras can be used to produce better pictures, but they can also be operated remotely, or even automatically. This is certainly the case with infrared cameras, which detect movement and send a report to a control room, accompanied by the pictures just taken.
The ease and convenience of humans is central to a smart society. Without a smart digital infrastructure, economic growth, innovation and a better environment are difficult to achieve. Yet a smart society begins with (smart) people. Only humans can bring the required maturity to our digital society. There are all sorts of initiatives underway at the moment, but the trick is to get them all to connect with one another in the right way. And for that, having a smart network as the beating heart of a smart society is essential.