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We all know fire hydrants help save lives. But what if they could also save cities millions of dollars? (Supplied)
We all know fire hydrants help save lives. But what if they could also save cities millions of dollars? (Supplied)

Connected cities: How the Internet of Things is creating smarter, greener and safer cities Add to ...

We all know fire hydrants help save lives. But what if they could also save cities millions of dollars?

A pioneering Kitchener, Ontario company called blueRover is working with TELUS and the University of Waterloo to create a way for Canadian cities to modernize and improve their water distribution system. By utilizing leading-edge Internet of Things (IoT) technology and TELUS’s secure wireless network, blueRover has reinvented a ubiquitous, often overlooked feature of any city sidewalk: the lowly fire hydrant.

“Leaks are a big problem in a lot of cities,” said Loreto Saccucci, CEO of blueRover. “You can literally lose millions of gallons of treated drinkable water into the earth and that means millions of dollars lost. The idea behind smart fire hydrants is that we can isolate those leaks and prevent loss.”

Here is how it works: Sensors are placed inside a city’s fire hydrants, where they can detect water pressure, temperature, vibrations and acoustics in the city’s water pipeline. The data is collected and relayed wirelessly to city officials, where sophisticated algorithms are used to analyze the data.

“The data could show on a certain street corner there have been changes in harmonics, or a temperature change, or that the pressure in the water system has dropped,” said Mr. Saccucci. “When sensors are installed in the fire hydrants you get very accurate location readings that can be used to predict leakage problems using algorithmic rhythms.” Because the water in hydrants is the same water that comes out of taps, the sensors could also be used to detect contaminants and test a city’s water quality.

The first of blueRover’s smart fire hydrants are being tested in the city of Guelph, Ontario, but Mr. Saccucci says they’ve been getting interest from cities across North America. In older, larger cities like Toronto, Montreal and New York, leaks can be responsible for up to a 50 per cent loss of a city’s water supply, he says, so smart fire hydrants could mean huge savings for those municipalities. “Los Angeles could alleviate their water shortage problem simply by preventing leakage.”

Connected fire hydrants are just one example of the transformational impact that IoT technology can have on cities, says Jim Senko, senior vice president of small business and emerging markets at TELUS.

“Canadian cities are looking for ways to address urban challenges like limited resources, rapid population growth, pollution and aging infrastructure,” he said. “IoT technology can help cities overcome those challenges and become smarter, greener, safer and more efficient.”

In a connected city, sensors in everyday “things” like fire hydrants, traffic lights and buses collect massive amounts of data, which can then be analyzed to anticipate, mitigate and prevent problems. City planners get real-time information to help them understand how the city functions, where there are inefficiencies and how to improve.

But what does a connected city look like?

Public WiFi is available all over the city, and citizens have quick, easy access to city services and government data through smartphone apps. Smart information kiosks in bus or streetcar shelters use touch technology to allow people to find their route, see when the next bus is coming or look for points of interest. Smart street lights adjust to movement to save energy, while smart waste bins indicate when they are full and need to be emptied.

Sensors and cameras detect empty parking spots, so drivers can be guided to them quickly through smartphone apps, reducing traffic congestion and emissions. Sensors monitor air quality and traffic flow, and traffic lights adjust in real time to reduce congestion. Cameras, sensors and apps monitor traffic incidents in real time, allowing for quicker response and recovery. Parking and traffic analytics improve long-term city planning.

Wireless technology connects ambulances, fire trucks and police cars, leading to quicker response time and safer streets. In case of emergencies (like floods or black-outs), cities can react more quickly by identifying where problems are in real time.

To help Canadian cities achieve this kind of smart connectivity, TELUS is partnering with local companies like blueRover to develop innovative IoT solutions for cities and municipalities of all sizes, says Mr. Senko. “There’s huge potential for IoT technology to help Canadian cities meet tomorrow’s challenges.”

As Mr. Senko points out, this isn’t just a vision of the future. Cities like Dallas and Barcelona have already deployed innovative IoT technology, and blueRover’s smart fire hydrants are one of many turn-key solutions currently offered in TELUS’s new IoT Marketplace.

“This is cutting-edge technology, and it’s happening right now in our back yard,” he said. “We’re combining our coast-to-coast wireless network, Internet data centres and IT security expertise with homegrown innovation to build solutions that create smarter cities and improve quality of life for Canadians.”

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's advertising department, in consultation with Telus. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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