Edge processing to create the smart cities of the future

By embedding sensors with the necessary power to process data in milliseconds, cities could enable real-time services that will improve the urban environment for everyone

Kevin Taylor
By Kevin Taylor on 20 October 2022
Edge processing to create the smart cities of the future
Unsplash/Ben O'Bro

The idea of a smart city that uses data to make daily life safer and smoother for residents is a compelling one. It’s also a vision that is closer to a reality as sensors that are essential for collecting data become increasingly sophisticated.  

Unfortunately, however, a lot of current solutions are not capable of working on the scale of a full city because of their reliance on centralised processing resources. Moving video streams from sensors to a central location induces latency into the application. The further you move the data, the more latency you create. In the case of emergency response applications or traffic systems, those milliseconds matter.  

The answer to this problem is edge processing. Sensors themselves are being embedded with more robust processing resources, meaning that a lot of analysis can be carried out directly in the camera. Not only does this reduce latency and lower costs, but it also means analysis can occur prior to the video being compressed for data transport. As a result, you can carry out more accurate analysis that results in richer metadata at a lower cost, with improved speed and accuracy, all from within the camera. 

This could have a major impact on some of the real-time applications needed to enable a smart city, such as emergency vehicle pre-emption. If an ambulance needs to travel north, sensors could coordinate traffic signals on the route ahead. The ambulance then gets green signals all the way, while the perpendicular lines of traffic get red signals, allowing it to make the most of every millisecond. 

In the future, I foresee this technology becoming a fundamental part of city infrastructure. Rather than having infrastructure in place and then bolting on sensors, cities will deploy internet of things sensors as an integral part of the infrastructure to collect data while simultaneously performing an operational task. The goal is to have an overall infrastructure with the flexibility to service siloed stakeholders and their unique use cases while also aggregating big data that enables municipal administrators, planners, and civil engineers to design more efficient, safer and healthier spaces to live. 

However, both now and in the future, we need to strike a balance between using technology to make our communities safer and ensuring we maintain citizens’ privacy. It’s important to discuss ethical implications before getting too enthusiastic about the technology deployment. These need to be open conversations involving the community to avoid accusations of bias, and to gain consensus behind its implementation. 

At Axis, we are committed to this approach, and will continue to be so for the future.  

Kevin Taylor is segment development manager for cities at Axis Communications 

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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