Emerging applications for smart city infrastructure include smart lighting, sensors, cameras, 5G, electric vehicle charging and systems that support drones, navigation and positioning, said Christina Patsioura, lead analyst in Internet of Things and intelligence at GSMA, at the Mobile World Congress panel on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
In the lead-up to MWC 2023, Russian startup Vitrulux demonstrated many of the capacities of smart cities in one place with its modular Smart Pole product. From surveillance drones to options for hooded lights, which face downward and have a covered top to reduce light pollution, it sums up what a smart city might be — for good or ill.
What is Virtulux’s Smart Pole?
Virtulux has been a lighting systems designer since 2004 and is now expanding into smart lighting. During the pre-MWC panel, the startup demonstrated modular Smart Poles that can serve as hubs for a wide variety of smart city resources.
“Smart Poles (are) a new trend,” said Patsioura. “Smart Poles are integrating some or all of these concepts I mentioned before into physical polls that are installed in cities.”
Virtulux’s Smart Pole and Smart Cluster products seek to make light poles into a central resource. In Virtulux’s parlance, a Smart Cluster is a group of Smart Poles, perhaps with a mixture of sizes and modules, that provides wider coverage and interoperability across an area such as an entire park or central square.
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Each Smart Pole can be customized with different kinds of illumination designed to cut down on light pollution, but it goes far beyond that. Drone docking stations, device chargers, CCTV cameras, audio recording and transmitting, 5G-ready radio, weather and CO2 monitoring sensors and voice assistance can be built in. In addition, the Smart Poles can be used in concert with automated shuttles, using the signal from the pole as a waypoint.
Larger poles might include energy storage that could solve power peaks and resolve fluctuations from EV car chargers and other large-scale infrastructure. Each sensor or function comes in its own modular section of the pole, enabling them to be customized, swapped out or maintained without taking the whole pole down.
The drone dock is one of the more futuristic and dramatic aspects of the product line. A rocket-shaped rotary security drone could, as Vitrulux illustrated in its talk, detect that a pedestrian had collapsed, take and analyze images of that person, and call an emergency medical response team. It’s easy to imagine this type of drone linking to law enforcement as well.
This myriad of data streams would likely be routed through local authorities, Vitrulux proposed. The company is working on building out a network of service operators in the infrastructure-as-a-service world, so there are more applications available.
The software was created in concert with a multi-service operator already in partnership with Vitrulux, and includes a digital twin of itself for maintenance. Using an API will be necessary because in real-world operation, each pole will be a hub for several different software modules, including some from external third parties.
The Smart Poles are in production now, Virtulux said, and have gained partnerships with organizations such as Huawei. While Virtulux has pricing and deployment arrangements made with system integrators in some countries, it’s still working on a wider rollout.
What is Virtulux’s Smart Cluster?
Those larger poles are where the Smart Cluster idea comes in. Placing numerous poles around the area could enable them to navigate using a local 5G network or the aforementioned autonomous vehicles, Virtulux said.
A short distance between multiple poles also enables the lines for power, signal and fiber optic to all be run inside one cable, said Andrei Shvdov, head of smart department at Virtulux.
This would require more buy-in from the cities, but Shvdov pointed out that municipalities are already familiar with the processes of contracting out infrastructure maintenance and construction with special infrastructure operators such as those that operate cellular towers.
“It’s targeted at early adopters,” said Patsioura. “Normally we would look at places in the world that can afford this project … cities that can enter the investment cycle for smart cities. Cities’ obligation is public safety, so we have no doubt there is interest there.”
What is the most developed smart city?
According to Statista, Copenhagen scored highest on its rubric for most developed digital cities. Copenhagen’s smart city initiatives focus on achieving carbon neutrality, creating a “more livable” capital and supporting economic growth. Its goals are wide-ranging.
For instance, keeping traffic from getting congested is a major problem it has endeavored to solve with real-time data gathering and traffic-related digital tools and apps. It has also experimented with adaptive lighting that saves on energy costs by raising illumination only when a pedestrian or cyclist is present.
Elsewhere in smart city news, energy optimization tops the list of IoT trends to watch. Plus, power companies can bolster their cybersecurity defenses, and San Antonio, Texas, is using AI to detect contaminated recyclables.
Criticisms of the smart city push
Critics of the smart city concept cite intrusive surveillance as one of its problems; automation tends to replicate the biases of the humans who make it. Citizens may balk at the idea of being perpetually on camera and recorded or within range of drones that have the capacity to send authorities false alarms.
Virtulux has also faced some of what Shvov called “radio phobia,” where citizens don’t want the mobile antennas to be visible in the street but do want the mobile connection.