by Tom Olago
You may be driving your car now, but may it soon be driving you? Welcome to the new ‘Internet of Things’ world where smart cars are coordinated using smart traffic systems in a new vibrant industry. Connecting roads or license plate readers to the Internet is going to be big business…
Or so thinks Tech giant Cisco: fastcompany.com has reported that Cisco has in its latest installment of the ongoing expansion into the ‘Internet of Things’, recently announced an agreement with Swiss security firm AGT International to develop smart traffic systems for cities around the world.
All these systems should ultimately improve traffic efficiency, improve road safety, help apprehend criminals and help to enforce adherence to traffic rules, with valuable intelligence being automatically relayed to the relevant authorities for review and action.
In this joint plan that was released early February, Cisco and AGT unveiled the details of an upcoming ‘Internet of Things’ enabled traffic management system. The system incorporates sensors embedded in pavements, license plate-reading systems, social media feeds, and video cameras to “identify, respond to, and resolve” traffic incidents in real time. According to a press release, the system is designed to provide long-term analytics on traffic accidents and to allow different agencies to share video feeds.
Neal Ungerleider, in his article for fastcompany.com writes: “Some people may find the AGT-Cisco product a bit creepy-after all, it’s a traffic management system that reads license plate numbers and integrates social media. Nevertheless, it’s part of a much larger trend in which city, state, and federal agencies use sensors to monitor the smallest aspects of everyday urban life.”
The Cisco-AGT axis is also designed to compete with a competitor who already has a lock on the smart cities market. IBM markets a similar ‘Internet of Things’ traffic product to municipalities worldwide by monitoring real time vehicle traffic, a small part of its much larger suite of city-oriented analytics products. Cisco has therefore been focused on acquiring corporate clients, while trying to compete for the existing IBM market share with city governments and municipalities.
Neil explains that “Cisco already has agreements with major cities like Barcelona. AGT, whose CEO Mati Kochavi is also the financial backer of news site Vocativ, already has strong contacts with many city customers thanks to AGT’s primary security business contacts which are likely beneficial for AGT’s partner, Cisco. But it looks their initial customer base will be outside the United States; according to a report in Fortune, rollout over the next three-to-five years will mainly be in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.”
According to a statement attributed to Cisco’s Wim Elfrink, “99 percent of the physical world is not connected to the Internet”. Wim sees possibilities to “deliver new and amazing value…through the unique combination of Cisco’s unparalleled networking and computing technology and AGT’s cutting-edge smart cities platform.”
Google seemingly already has a foot in the ‘Internet of Things’ space, and Cisco and AGT’s use of sensors embedded in roads is said to be similar to one of Google’s key strategies for self-driving cars. Neil explains: “…While road sensors are commonly used to track traffic or weather damage to pavement, Google’s eventual hope is that sensors placed at regular intervals on interstate highways can help guide driverless cars to their destination and provide a crucial vehicle spacing mechanism.
Smart roads, and a constant stream of data for government from drivers, are likely to be a moneymaker for companies like Cisco, AGT, IBM, and Google for years to come.” Just how big? According to Cisco CEO John Chambers, the estimated worth of smart road systems will be about U.S $19 trillion in just the next few years.
This growth has been preceded and founded upon the extended usage of traffic related security, crime detection and law-enforcement technologies, such as License Plate Readers (LPRs). LPRs have provided confidence that vehicle–related crimes can be controlled effectively. A case study on this was carried out in 2012 in Tiburon, California where the city council approved the cameras unanimously back in November 2009.
In an article for arstechnica.com, Cyrus Farivar then wrote: “The scanners can read 60 license plates per second, and then match observed plates against a “hot list” of wanted vehicles, stolen cars, or criminal suspects. LPRs have increasingly become a mainstay of law enforcement nationwide; many agencies tout them as a highly effective “force multiplier” for catching bad guys, most notably burglars, car thieves, child molesters, kidnappers, terrorists, and—potentially—undocumented immigrants…today, tens of thousands of LPRs are being used by law enforcement agencies all over the country—practically every week, local media around the country report on some LPR expansion. But the system’s unchecked and largely unmonitored use raises significant privacy concerns.”
Recently, a similar development in Boston, Massachusetts illustrates the progress being made on the smart traffic front with security- enhancing 360-degree live surveillance cameras fitted on City buses.
Rt.com reports that “Transportation officials in Boston, Massachusetts began outfitting the city’s metro busses this week with a $6.9 million surveillance system funded entirely by the United States Department of Homeland Security. This week the city began installation of the high-tech and internet-ready cameras on 10 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) busses across the greater Boston area, but by summertime they expect to have a fleet of 225 vehicles totally equipped to monitor the activities of MBTA passengers. Those cameras, a local CBS affiliate reported, consist of new 360-degree lenses that can be embedded in the ceilings and walls to “capture everything.”
Residents don’t seem to worry about the cameras, but concerns have been expressed about potential loss of privacy through the potential use of eavesdropping techniques and systems. At the time of the Boston Marathon bombing last April, Bloomberg News reported that at least 233 private and public cameras were already in operation in the city’s Financial District, equating to nearly six cameras per city block.
The ‘Internet of Things’ seems to be evolving into yet another key part of the global surveillance and monitoring systems that are growing in leaps and bounds.