IBM has been helping cities develop sophisticated monitoring and management systems for several years, but, until now, most of the technology solutions it provided were made to order. That’s not sustainable. A just-announced engagement with Zhenjiang, a a tourist destination in northern China, represents the first publicly-discussed example of a smarter cities solution that is being built on a single sophisticated software platform, called the Intelligent Operations Center.
Think of the IOC as an operating system for cities. IBM scientists, engineers and consultants fashioned the IOC by incorporating the lessons they learned about how cities work and how to use technology to make them work better. These lessons came from engagements with New York City, Stockholm, Singapore, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and other places. The IOC platform integrates streams of data from many sources, public and private. The developers are making specialized software application modules that click into place in the IOC platform like Legos—starting with transportation, which is being used in Zhenjiang.
Leaders in Zhenjiang, which has a population of 3 million, realized that the city could not continue to grow rapidly and remain an attractive tourist destination. So they decided to come to grips with growth before it does real damage to the quality of life.
The plan is to make over the city’s public transportation system and steer traffic more efficiently. Using data gathered from sensors, video cameras, satellite images, the IOC will provide a comprehensive, real-time picture of the city’s transportation network. City managers will be able to anticipate traffic problems and reroute vehicles using programmable traffic lights and other signals. They’re also using the data to optimize the schedules for 1,000 buses serving 400 bus stations. Technology from IBM Research provides the predictive analytics that will make it possible for managers to anticipate problems and avoid them.
One of the key elements of making cities smarter is being able to recognize patterns that are common to boomtowns in Asia, industrial cities in the American midwest or cultural capitals of Europe. Once you spot the commonalities, you can design expert systems for managing those aspects of cities. The IOC software is a major (yet still early) step along the path to providing cities with affordable technology that will help them transform the way operate.
Here’s the story of Rio’s intelligent operations center: