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Democratizing Smart City solutions with Azure IoT Central

Cities are using the Internet of Things (IoT) to manage their infrastructure by capturing and analyzing data from connected devices and sensors, giving city managers real-time insights to improve operational efficiency and outcomes and to altogether rethink and reinvent city government functions and operations.

One of the most dynamic landscapes embracing Internet of Things (IoT) is the modern city. As urbanization grows, city leaders are under increasing pressure to make cities safer, accessible, sustainable, and prosperous.

Underlying all these important goals is the bedrock that makes a city run: infrastructure. Whether it be water, electricity, streets, traffic lights, cities are increasingly using the Internet of Things (IoT) to manage their infrastructure by capturing and analyzing data from connected devices and sensors. This gives city managers real-time insights to improve operational efficiency and outcomes and to altogether rethink and reinvent city government functions and operations.

Microsoft and its ecosystem of service and hardware providers are deeply engaged with cities and communities around the world, addressing the most pressing issues that government leaders face. For instance, traffic congestion continues to increase in most urban areas, placing growing pressure on existing physical infrastructure. In the emerging world, new physical infrastructure needs to be built altogether. Citizens also have growing concerns about public safety and security. Investments in IoT-based solutions for city operations are accelerating to address these concerns, led by applications like smart street lighting, smart waste, and smart parking. Cities are also realizing the benefit of IoT for optimizing the management of globally scarce resources, such as water and energy. Amidst this growing investment, early results from the world’s leading smart cities are promising. Some cities have seen approximately 60 percent in energy savings from leveraging LED-based smart streetlights, while others have been able to save 25-80 liters of water per person per day. Optimized traffic flow in some areas is helping commuters shave 15-30 minutes daily, resulting in a 10-15 percent reduction in emissions, and 66 percent operational cost reduction from smart waste management.

Despite a growing consensus around the benefits of adopting IoT solutions, scaling beyond the proof of concept remains difficult. Most smart city solutions today consist of bespoke pilots, unable to scale or repeat due to growing costs, complexity, and lack of specialized technical talent, in a market landscape that is already incredibly fragmented. Earlier this year we surveyed 3,000 enterprise decision-makers across the world, including government organizations, of whom 83 percent consider IoT “critical” to success, notably for public safety and infrastructure and facilities management. At the same time, the vast majority of the decision-makers expressed concerns about persistent knowledge gaps for how to scale their solutions securely, reliably, and affordably, the main reason why the average maturity of production-level IoT projects remains extremely low (read the full IoT Signals report). In order to help IoT solution builders navigate the complexity of designing enterprise-grade IoT systems, we published our learnings in a whitepaper called “The 8 attributes of successful IoT solutions” to help IoT solution builders ask the right questions up front as they design their systems, and to help them select the right technology platforms.

Building Smart Cities IoT solutions with Azure IoT Central

To further help IoT solution builders confidently scale their projects, we recently announced updates to Azure IoT Central, our IoT app platform for designing, deploying, and managing enterprise-grade solutions. IoT Central provides a fully managed platform for building and customizing solutions, designed to support solution builders with each of the attributes of successful IoT systems, including security, disaster recovery, high availability, and more. By removing the complexity and overhead of setup, management, and operations, IoT Central is lowering the barrier for IoT solution builders across industries, and accelerates the creation of innovative solutions across all industries, from retail to healthcare to energy to government. Check out our recent IoT Central blog for a full list of our updates and examples of solution builders across different industries.

As part of our mission to democratize IoT for all, we released an initial set of Azure IoT Central government app templates to help solution builders start building IoT solutions quickly with out-of-box device command and control, monitoring and alerting, a user interface with built-in permissions, configurable dashboards, and extensibility APIs. Solution builders can brand, customize, and easily connect their solutions to their line of business applications, such as Dynamics 365 for integrated field service, Azure ML services, or their third-party services of choice.

Developers can get started today with any of the government app templates for free and access starter resources, including sample operator dashboards, simulated devices, pre-configured rules, and alerting to explore what is possible. We’ve also provided guidance for customizing and extending solutions with documentation, tutorials, and how-to’s. Ultimately you can brand and sell your finished solution to your customers, either directly or through Microsoft AppSource.

IoT Central Government App templates

Government app templates available today:

Connected waste management: Sensors deployed in garbage containers in cities can inform how full a trash bin is and optimize waste collection routes. Moreover, advanced capabilities for smart waste applications involve the use of analytics to detect bin contamination.

Water quality monitoring: Traditional water quality monitoring relies on manual sampling techniques and field laboratory analysis, which is both time consuming and costly. By remotely monitoring water quality in real-time, water quality issues can be managed before citizens are impacted.

Water consumption monitoring: Traditional water consumption tracking relies on water operators manually reading water meters across various sites. More and more cities are replacing traditional meters with advanced smart meters, enabling remote monitoring of consumption as well as remote control of valves to manage water flow. Water consumption monitoring coupled with information and insights flowing back to individual households can increase awareness and reduce water consumption.

Water Consumption Monitoring Blog screenshot

Expect to see more app templates for solution builders over time to cover other smart city scenarios, with templates for smart streetlights, air quality monitoring, smart parking, and more.

Innovative smart cities solution partners using Azure IoT Central

From established leading research organizations to enterprises to public utilities, we are seeing solution builders leverage Azure IoT Central to transform their public sector services.

Smart water infrastructure

Dutch-based company, Oasen, supplies 48 billion liters of high-quality drinking water every year to 750,000 residents across municipalities in the South Holland region. Oasen turned to Microsoft and OrangeNXT to digitally transform its water structure. Using Azure IoT Central, the company is introducing scalability, flexibility, and greater innovation to its operations through remote management of its water distribution network. Leveraging Azure Digital Twins and Azure IoT Central, Oasen connects multiple sources of data (including data extracted from smart water meters and smart valves in pipelines), to create a true digital twin of the water grid.

By remotely controlling and monitoring valves, Oasen can now automatically test grid sections (step-testing) to radically improve grid quality, as well as predict burst water mains and assess which pipelines are most at risk of damage and need repair. These smart water shutters and smart meter implementations significantly reduce manual work. Furthermore, the smart grid solution allows the automatic shutdown of sections of the distribution network if a leak is detected, preventing damage, and reducing water quality hazards.

Water quality monitoring

Other solution builders have built solutions for water quality management. According to the World Health Organization, nearly one-fourth of people across the globe drink water contaminated with feces, with an estimated 50 percent of the global population projected to live in water-stressed areas by 2025, (either in close proximity to polluted or otherwise scarce water sources). There has never been a greater need for high-quality data from liquid sensor networks to track ion levels in the water, which can fluctuate dramatically within the scope of several hundred meters and can have devastating impacts on public health. Imec, a leading international research and development firm specializing in nanoelectronics and digital technology, has developed water sensor devices from inexpensive ion sensors on silicone substrates for monitoring water quality in real-time.

Imec, together with partners, will pilot this solution in a testbed of about 2,500 sensors installed across the Flanders region in Belgium. The sensors detect salinity in the water in real-time, allowing officials to track water quality fluctuations over time. Imec’s water quality monitoring solution was built on Azure IoT Central, which provides the flexible foundation required to design, test, and scale the solution across the city.

“IoT Central is a fast and easy to use platform suitable for an innovative R&D organization such as ours. This means we can dedicate ourselves to enable large fine-grained networks of water quality sensors and, through the collected data, improve visibility into water quality and enable better water management to the mission to make water quality better visible. ”—Marcel Zevenbergen, Program Manager, Imec

Smart street lighting

Combined with LED conversion, smart street lighting solutions have helped uncover massive efficiency opportunities for cities, with operational savings typically reaching over 65 percent. Telensa is a world leader in connected streetlight solutions, managing over 1.7 million poles in 400 cities around the world. Telensa PLANet is an end-to-end smart street lighting system consisting of wireless nodes that connect individual lights to a dedicated network and a central management application. The system helps cities reduce energy and maintenance costs while improving the efficiency of maintenance through automatic fault reporting and turning streetlight poles into hubs for other smart city sensors, such as for air quality and traffic monitoring. Since no two cities are the same, Telensa has developed its Urban IQ solution to enables cities to add any 3rd party sensors to their connected street lighting, make the insights available across city departments, and to provide sophisticated real-time visualization out of the box. Telensa built its Urban IQ solution with Azure IoT Central, to fit with current systems and to be ready for future directions. By moving device management and connectivity functions to IoT Central,  and dramatically lowering the cost of adding other sense and control apps to their Azure data fabric, Telensa can focus on enhancing smart city functionality and adding value for its customers.

Connecting the dots for smarter cities

With solutions that take full advantage of the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge, we continue to demonstrate how cloud, IoT, and artificial intelligence (AI) have the power to drastically transform and enhances cities to be more sustainable, enjoyable, and inclusive. Azure IoT continues to accelerate results with a growing and diverse set of partners creating solutions relevant to smart cities from spatially-aware solutions that provide real-world context, to smart grids of the future, to urban mobility and spatial intelligence. Together, we can build more intelligent and connected cities that empower people and organizations to achieve more.

Get started today with Azure IoT Central.

Smart City Expo World Congress

Microsoft will be at Smart City Expo World Congress, the industry-leading event for urbanization, to connect smart city technologies and partners with cities on a digital transformation journey. Visit our booth at Gran Via, Hall P2, Stand B223 and learn more about our conference presence at SCEWC 2019. We also encourage you to meet with us at the following sessions: