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How data-enabled services are changing city life, work, and retail

 

Data-enabled services are booming — and transforming how we live.

In business, the ability to extract strategic value from data is increasingly separating winners from losers. In building, we've entered an era when the environments in which we work and shop use data gathered from Internet of Things-enabled systems to optimize a range of functions. And in cities across the world, urban planners are using data-enabled services to drive efficiencies, solve stubborn problems, and in general improve the lives of residents.

Here are some specific — and startling — ways in which data-driven tech is changing the rules in some key areas.

Man in car driving through a tunnel

A bold vision for tunnels

One striking aspect of today's fast-developing data-enabled services is that often we're accessing them via technologies that we take for granted, or that we might have little idea are especially high-tech at all.

Take smart street lighting systems, which afford the connectivity that allows public light points across a city to share data about themselves and participate in the Internet of Things (IoT). Using on-board intelligence and integrated sensors, connected light points can collect and share data about their own operations and the illuminated environment. Via machine learning and other approaches to data analytics, a smart lighting system can tell planners where people congregate, where they park and how they drive, when they're most likely to come and go, and more. Lights can be set to dim automatically when streets are empty, or a park can get the level and type of light it requires to become an after-dark favorite.

But connected lighting can do more than provide intelligent lighting. It can deliver a wide range of non-light-related services as well.

Take something that motorists do often, without really giving much thought to it: drive through tunnels. An accident deep inside a long tunnel can be catastrophically inhibiting to the flow of traffic. It can be especially dangerous when the release of dangerous chemicals is involved.

Enter the sensors with which a connected tunnel lighting system can be equipped. These can immediately alert emergency crews not only to the fact that an accident has happened, but that a caustic compound has leaked out of a tanker truck and into the environment, giving them the chance to respond quickly safely, and appropriately.

Sensor-enabled connected lighting systems in the city at large can also help law enforcement. For example, sensors can pinpoint the location where gunshots have been fired. The system can instantly generate emergency alerts, giving police a jump on getting to the scene.

Office worker using a smartphone app to adjust workspace

A smarter way to work

Now imagine a day in the life of a worker in an office building equipped with a connected lighting system. Arriving at the office in the morning, she uses the wayfinding system to find the nearest available desk. (There are no dedicated workspaces in this up-to-the-minute smart building.) After setting up a meeting, she then uses wayfinding to find her way to the conference room.

As the meeting reaches the fifty-minute mark, the room's lights flash to signal participants that it's time to wrap up. It's by now noon, and our hungry employee uses location-based services to find out where her lunch partners are.

The connected lighting system makes life for the building's facilities manager easier, too. Historical occupancy data that the system's embedded sensors pass along indicates that a certain office area is under-used in the morning, so the manager shuts it down. She uses that data later to back up her points at a space optimization meeting with the corporate real estate board. And before she leaves for the evening she advises the cleaning crew where to clean, based on the day's occupancy numbers.

Of course, an office smart lighting platform can make a big difference in its primary function, too: using data to optimize light quality and levels, to create a comfortable and productive work environment.

Close up of smartphone showing indoor positioning app

Making retail more responsive

IoT-enabled smart lighting is enhancing the retail experience as well, via indoor positioning — essentially a type of indoor GPS, enabled by visible light communication.

By using indoor positioning to gather and analyze historical data about traffic patterns and dwell times in the store, managers can optimize layouts. The technology can also bring the digital and physical experiences closer together, giving shoppers in the store the same access to data and contextual customer service they can get online. The elimination of checkout lines is another possible benefit. And shoppers who download the store app can use it to follow personalized map routes through the story.

Research published last year by Zebra, a firm that builds tracking technology, showed that 70 percent of 1,700 retail decision-makers in North America surveyed were ready to adopt IoT tech to enhance customer experience. The verdict seems clear: The IoT is poised to become part of the fabric or our retail experience — just as it's gearing up to make our work environments safer and more productive, and our urban spaces more responsive and livable.