Steve recently presented at Smart Cities Week 2017 in Silicon Valley. While there, he had the change to muse over many things, the internet of them, and why we need interoperability for our garbage cans: 

It was an honour to be invited by the OGC to present at Smart Cities Week – Silicon Valley 2017.  I was invited to present the OGC SensorThings API, an open API standard for IoT sensing data. Before my talk, I used the opportunity to walked the exhibition floor. 

One exhibitor caught my attention immediately: Victor Stanley, a manufacturer of street furniture. I’d never heard of the company before, but I have seen their products, such as benches, garbage cans, etc.  At the smart city conference, they exhibited their “Smart Garbage Can” called Victor Stanley Relay. It has sensors embedded in the garbage can. Its sensors use cellular networks to send sensing data, such as how full and how heavy, to their own proprietary cloud. Then cities can see the real-time sensing data from a web dashboard and make sure the garbage cans are not full, thus keeping the streets clean. What I like about this product is that it doesn’t at all look like a geeky smart product. It is simply a piece of classic and solid street furniture.


However, it also got me thinking about the other smart garbage can company: Bigbelly. And, I am sure there are more smart garbage cans out there. I am not sure which smart can is smarter or more useful, but I know one thing for sure. These smart and connected garbage cans do not interoperate with each other. They use their own proprietary cloud API, data models, and dashboards.  Smart cans from different vendors become information silos (as well as garbage silos). That means if the north of the city uses one vendor and the south of the city uses a different vendor, there is no easy way to visualize and analyze the data collected by these smart cans. For example, there’s no way to combine the data to find the most efficient route to empty garbage cans. 

Garbage cans aren’t the only information silos. There will be information silos of smart light posts, smart air quality boxes, smart bus stops, etc. The more of these there are, the more the dashboards to check, and the more the lack of interoperability problem compounds. The missing links between data grow exponentially. If these were widely deployed, the city’s systems would be a mess of non-combinable data, requiring total overhaul to fix. Far better to begin with interoperable sensor data, so that the smart systems, as they are more and more widely installed, are interoperable from the start.

It is crucial for any city to demand that vendors use an open IoT API standard, such as the OGC SensorThings API, to publish and share sensor data in an interoperable manner before it’s too late!!

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