Using smart technology to build smart cities

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    With the immense expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities have become more than just a concept. Technology is taking over the way we do things and impacts municipal services around the globe. Although adopting new technology in the construction industry can be a slow process, it has proven to bring much needed change and to improve construction and building processes.

    With the aim to improve quality of life by making cities more sustainable, efficient, and easier to live in, smart cities are becoming essential to construction and infrastructure expansion. As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, the movement toward higher technology integration in all aspects of living is crucial. The truth is that smart cities don’t only affect those living within them, but everyone around the globe. With a big focus on livability, smart cities aim to benefit the three pillars of sustainability — people (social), planet (environment), and profit (economic) (see Figure 1).

    Within smart cities, mobile apps are used to give fast and accurate access to traffic information, road conditions, circulation of pedestrians, and more. With the implementation of smart sensors and mobile apps, not only can public workers have access to information they can use to optimize traffic circulation and more, but citizens have access to information like open parking locations or wait times for restaurants. With this level of technology, cities are better able to manage resources with programs such as waste management that use sensors to notify the city sanitation department when it’s time to collect trash, or traffic light control that allows first responders to get where they need to be in a faster and safer manner.

    The biggest mover of smart cities is the massive amounts of data that can be collected with ease. This data is used to optimize everything from energy consumption, transportation, resource management, and more, and it all starts with construction. Technology is being utilized to create smart buildings that allow people to stay connected to buildings and surrounding environment through information technology. Things such as air conditioning, ventilation, heating, lighting, security, and more are controlled by automated processes using sensors, microchips, and other devices. Data is collected and managed according to the building’s use and function. A lot of the technology necessary for operation of smart cities is implemented during the building process and can be unrecognizable to people it surrounds.

    Technology in construction

    The use of smart technology in construction is essential to ensuring safety, sustainability, and efficiency. It’s improving the way we do things in the construction industry from the office, to equipment and materials, and on the jobsite. From connected jobsites to BIM, technology is enabling engineers and contractors to optimize project schedules and streamline the building process from start to finish.

    New apps are helping agencies and contractors keep data in order in the office by tracking everything from license bonds, to safety records, and inventory. Smart technology in the office is only the beginning. Although they are still making their way into worldwide markets, autonomous trucks are becoming a thing of the present. Safer work zones are becoming a reality with driverless vehicle technology as autonomous attenuator trucks and impact protection vehicles are hitting the roads and removing danger from drivers and vehicle controllers. Soon we should start seeing the use of autonomous concrete trucks, bulldozers, excavators, and more on and off the jobsite.

    Smart concrete and sensors

    Concrete structures make up a large portion of physical infrastructure around the world and concrete continues to be a building material of choice for civil and structural engineers. Although aging and deterioration of concrete leads to loss of structural integrity, it is still one of the most sustainable and long-lasting building materials in the construction industry. As we develop smart cities and technology continues to evolve, engineers are developing new ways to monitor the structural state of concrete during the curing period, which ultimately helps increase the lifespan and safety of concrete structures.

    Smart concrete is being developed using conductive or semi-conductive fillers, such as carbon fibers, steel slag, carbon black, or nanophase materials, which are added to cement-based materials and are able to provide higher strength and strain resistance than conventional concrete. Due to its conductivity, the use of smart concrete can aid in traffic monitoring, rebar corrosion monitoring, stress/strain or force/deformation monitoring of concrete components, and more.

    Concrete producers are adopting smart concrete technology that allows them to have access to information necessary for optimizing concrete mixes. Sensors embedded within concrete at the time of placing are able to measure and relay information to smartphones and tablets through wireless technology. Being able to closely and accurately monitor temperature and strength of concrete during curing can help overcome potential drawbacks and monitor the overall health of concrete — a huge benefit to contractors and engineers.

    Data from the sensors is made immediately available to team members and project managers and ultimately helps reduce costs while increasing efficiency and allowing remote team members and offices to gain complete visibility into jobsite data. Moreover, with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the data collected from these sensors can in the long run help develop predictive analytics, which will further help improve construction projects and procedures and increase efficiency.

    The idea of a smart city is to implement high technology and smart sensors within its infrastructure to support the society, the environment, and the economy. These cities provide citizens and public workers with information necessary for the improvement of infrastructure and living every step of the way — starting with the building process. When pertaining to smart cities and construction, one the most important technologies is smart concrete sensors. As mentioned above, using smart sensors to monitor concrete health ultimately helps increase sustainability and infrastructure lifespan.


    Roxanne Pepin is the digital marketing specialist with Giatec Scientific Inc. (www.giatec.ca).