Mika Mannervesi: Big data in a small city

Imagine that everything that happens in a small city could be simultaneously observed and all the necessary adjustments performed to make the city infrastructure or services optimal for the current situation. Impossible? Not quite so anymore.

The data storage and analysis capacity has improved so much that it is now only our limited imagination that sets the boundaries. There are sensors everywhere around us. Merely by collecting the information from them we gain a real-time approach to what is happening. Facility owners can monitor for example the temperature, electricity consumption, amount of carbon dioxide in the air and the number of people in the building. They can also tune the settings to optimize the technical conditions of the facility, even from the other side of the world. We saw one proof of that when we visited Microsoft during the Witty City tour that Tekes organized to northwestern USA.

By installing simple and cost-effective sensors to places we don not normally connect them to, say fire extinguishers, as has been done by Microsoft, we can get real time information of whether or not the fire extinguishers are still attached to the places they were originally mounted to, and when they should be inspected again. This can be done with just one simple query to a database, instead of spending hours or days by walking from one extinguisher to another.

LED lighting is replacing the previous technology in street lighting. LED lights combined with sensors, small GPS antennas and Wi-Fi links can create a space we could have never even imagined of – by same time the LED lighting is reducing the electricity costs of street lighting dramatically. We can collect, distribute and analyze data from traffic, weather, surface conditions on the streets or other desired sources. The information systems on vehicles driving under the LED lights can communicate with the lighting or with whatever other system we want it to connect with.

The sensors in the sewerage system can analyze the waste water and send online information to the treatment plant. If they register changes in the amount or the quality of water, the system at the treatment plant can be tuned so that it automatically adapts to the conditions. The beginning of an epidemic can be recognized from waste water analyses even before clinics have had any realization of a rising number of patients with similar symptoms. Thus, the actions that are needed can be started right away: For example the informing the citizens of a certain area of an increased risk, or the beginning of the distribution of preventive medication.

The City of Salo in southwest Finland, the original home town of Nokia mobile phones, is making its first steps exploring the world of big data. 5500 lights are switched from mercury to LED technology, and that provides a good start for the collecting of data in a manner we previously could not even imagine of. All the necessary technology exists! We just need a little imagination and curiosity, and somebody to link the missing connections. Could that be the next business revolution for Finnish business?

Mika Mannervesi
Director, City development services, City of Salo, Finland
Member of Tekes Witty City Study Tour to Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver
Photo: Mika Lautanala

Eero Lukin