Not familiar with the "Internet of Things" (IoT)? Well, it's familiar with you. IoT refers to everyday physical objects that are embedded with internet connectivity. Think: Google Home and Amazon's Alexa. But there's more to the tech than just personal assistance.
Cities around the world are implementing IoT into their infrastructures to address systemic problems and make life much easier in ways most of us probably take for granted. From reducing our collective carbon footprint to monitoring air quality, IoT can do so much more than just tell you what the weather is before you leave the house (though that is pretty cool).
As Limor "Ladyada" Fried, CEO of Adafruit Industries and founding member of the NYC Industrial Business Advisory Council, told us:
"The most exciting part of IoT's future is seeing makers and coders design the devices that best suit them and their communities. Instead of relying on what's available in the store, customization and optimizations will let small-scale engineering happen by the people who will actually use it!"
So if you’re wondering how learning to code can help you build a better, more optimized world, here are some examples of how innovations in IoT are changing cities for the better.
1. Smart streetlights
Stargazers rejoice! To help reduce light pollution, cities are starting to implement smart streetlights that automatically adjust light levels depending on the time of day and traffic and road conditions. A handful of states in the U.S. — like California, Georgia, and Michigan — already have them.
More importantly, these streetlights help conserve energy and use it more efficiently. Tvilight, a company that offers smart streetlights, reports that its tech has reduced energy consumption by over 60% in cities in Germany, India, and the Netherlands. Some smart streetlights also come with motion sensors that base light levels on human presence, lowering energy consumption and CO2 emissions even further.
In the near future, smart streetlights could even be used to improve emergency services and prevent crime, according to Intel.
2. Smart roads
Traffic isn’t just annoying to sit in, it’s also expensive. One estimate suggests that traffic congestion cost the average U.S. driver $564 in wasted time in 2021, according to Inrix. That’s one of the reasons why more and more companies are combating the issue by inventing smart materials that can be added to roads to make them safer and more efficient.
Smart Pavement from Integrated Roadways, for example, is concrete with embedded sensors that detect accidents and roadway conditions as people drive in real time. The information and feedback is then shared with other drivers, central processing hubs, and emergency services.
There are also innovative new technologies like Studio Roosegaarde's Smart Highway. These solar-powered smart roads charge by day and glow by night, offering drivers greater visibility (and a very futuristic ambiance).
3. Smart energy management
The U.S. government is coming up with new ways to utilize energy more efficiently and help consumers track and manage their household energy use. You may have heard of "smart grids," which use communication technologies and control systems to help prevent and mitigate power outages. They also give consumers greater access to their data, empowering them to make more informed decisions about how they consume energy on an individual level.
The U.K. is making similar efforts with the widespread adoption of smart energy meters. These smart meters provide a more accurate analysis of people’s energy use, down to each specific appliance.
This makes it easier for people to monitor and manage their energy usage (and hopefully cut down on their electric bills). According to Forbes, they're expected to be seen in every home and small business in the U.K. by June 2025. If you live in the U.S., you might already have one — The Edison Foundation shows that they’re already implemented into 75% of households as of 2021.
4. Smart trash management
IoT technology is also being used to keep our cities clean.
In 2019, San Francisco implemented smart trash cans throughout the city with sensors that detect when they're near-full and automatically notify trash collection agencies. Not only has this helped keep garbage off the streets, but it also potentially reduces carbon emissions by streamlining trash collection.
Seoul, South Korea, achieved similar results after implementing their own smart trash cans, Clean Cubes. Since installation, waste overflow was eliminated, street litter has reduced significantly, and the city reduced collection costs by 83%.
5. Smart air quality sensors
To combat air pollution, cities are using IoT tech to gather data and gauge residents’ levels of exposure. With this data, cities can better identify areas with poor air quality, assess the relationship between pollutants and diseases, and potentially encourage officials to take action.
In parts of Chicago and Barcelona, for example, lampposts and park benches contain air sensors that are used to track air quality and identify pollutants, Harvard reports. There are also mobile sensors that attach to Google's Street View cars and quickly scan air quality as they drive around cities.
Learning more about IoT
These technologies barely scratch the surface of what you can do with IoT. So how do you actually get into IoT development?
Fried (who you heard from above) recommends learning Python as the first step: The language is great for parsing structured data in text (e.g., HTML, XML, and JSON), and it also features flexible memory management and exception handling capabilities.
Ready to get started? Check out our Learn Python 3 course to learn the language's fundamentals. Then, dive into Learn Hardware Programming With CircuitPython to start experimenting with hardware. The future of cities could literally be at your fingertips.