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Understanding Internet of Things and a path to the Nigerian Smart City

Internet of Things

Today, it is almost impossible to go through a week in global technology news without reading something to do with Internet of Things (IoT), especially with the ongoing innovations in driverless cars. Like many other innovations over the past decades, Internet of Things is today’s buzz word, the tech fad for today as others may put it. To be clear, I don’t mean to take away from, or be-little the impact Internet of Things is having on the world, or at least the potential it will have in our world over time. My point is that, like other past technology buzz words, IoT is an evolution towards something greater.

In the 1970’s to 1980’s the major innovation of the day was personal computers, then we moved on to ‘Networks’ and then to the ‘Internet’ in the 1990’s. The 2000’s saw the growth of ‘Mobile’ then the conversations moved to ‘Big Data’ and ‘Cloud’ computing or services. With this evolution, we are now in the era of the ‘On-Demand’ services, or as some would put it; the ‘Uber era’; where you have the Uber for this or the Uber for that. Following on this, we are in the early days of Internet of Things.

The question then is, what exactly is the Internet of Things?

According to Intel, “The Internet of Things is an Evolution of mobile, home and embedded applications, that are connected to the internet, integrating greater computing capabilities and using data analytics to extractmeaningful information.”

With this definition, you begin to see how the evolution of technology over the past few decades have led to the Internet of Things. It is estimated that there are about 2 Billion people using the Internet; it has also been estimated that by the year 2020, we will have over 100 Billion equipment, appliances, machines and in essence, Things connected to the internet. So just imagine a future where in addition to your phones, Laptops, TV, Security systems, Playstations and possibly your DSTV connected to the internet, we also have our Bikes, Cars, clothes, Homes (Doors, beds, fridge, cooker, lights, washing machine, stereo system, coffee machine etc), Offices (Doors, Chairs, floors, Security systems, Parking lot system etc), Street lights, traffic lights, toll gates, Danfos (public buses), boats and Ferries, hospitals, government etc all connected to the Internet.

Almost seems overwhelming when you think of the extent of the ‘sea of things’ which can be connected to the internet, especially when one considers a city like Lagos. However, this is where the world is going. With sensors being connected to almost everything. Today with products like Fitbit, the Apple Watch and other smart Watches, you can track your heart rate, the number of steps you take, your sleep patterns etc. All these, aid the ongoing ‘wellness’ movement to attain and maintain good health, as opposed to actually getting an ailment and going on to treat it. This is made possible by the constant monitoring and analysis of the body’s activities using these devices. However, having all that raw data about your body’s activities is completely useless to the individual if it is not effectively delivered as meaningful information on the current state of health of the individual; because at the end of the day, having clear knowledge of the number of steps or distance covered and calories burned provides the user with the relevant information they need on their path to wellness.

Now that I have attempted to explain the principle of Internet of Things, at-least from a personal view in relation to wellness. How then can we expand on this to the level of Smart Homes and Smart Cities that we hear or read about? And more importantly in the Nigerian frame of mind, where exactly do we start from, to achieve this? I will try to explain this down the line using one of our greatest problems in Lagos, TRAFFIC!

Smart Cities and the Internet of Things as a whole runs on the concept of ‘Networked Systems’, which is made up of individual systems connected to form Networks and sub-networks that work together towards a common purpose. Imagine in the not too distant future, Lagos is a smart city, where your home would be a system within the network, with various appliances like your phones, laptops, alarm and security system, kitchen appliances, entertainment systems, utilities all connected together. In this case, Lagos would have its own traffic management system with a network of connected street cameras, traffic lights, toll gates, bridges, roads and side walks all with sensors, so the Lagos Traffic control centre can monitor and manage the flow of traffic (Just like we see in Hollywood movies).

In this case, you live in lekki and need to catch a 10am flight at MMIA on a Saturday morning. In this scenario with limited traffic, you should be able to make it to the airport in about 45 minutes with no trouble. Let us assume you need to be at the airport at 8am, and need 30mins from the time you wake up to get ready, then your alarm (which is connected to your home system) would have to go off at 6:45am, giving you about 1 hour 15 minutes to wake up, get dressed and drive to the airport to make your flight. Now lets assume that in a typical day from the time you wake up, the Smart Home sensors on your bed or bedroom floor, send information to the water heater to start heating up. Also, information is sent to the stereo to start playing your favourite morning songs (just so you start the day right), and data is also sent to the coffee machine so it starts brewing amongst other morning activities.

Lets assume on this particular day, in this fictional, not so distant future, there was a delayed overnight construction on the Gbagada — Oshodi road, which had caused traffic to build all the way to Oworonshoki. In this scenario, if Lagos was not a Smart City, you would likely get into this traffic on Gbagada — Oshodi road, you would most likely miss the 8am check-in time and ultimately miss your flight. Sounds familiar?

Now, in the scenario where Lagos is actually a Smart City, as traffic builds due to the delayed construction on Gbagada — Oshodi road, traffic data would be automatically fed to the Lagos traffic management system, which in turn would send this information to the Lagos Smart City Management System (this system would be made up of different Lagos networks including, Traffic management, Security, Water, Education, Power etc and individual Smart Homes would have access to the information within this system). With this information available on the Lagos Smart City Management System, your Smart Home’s system would identify traffic data, and instead of 6:45am, your Smart Home’s Alarm would wake you up at possibly 6:00am so you leave for the airport early enough with the hope to ride out the traffic on Gbagada — Oshodi road, or completely avoid that route and take an alternative longer route to the airport.

In essence, the true value we get from the Internet of Things revolution is ‘Intelligence’; brought about by the ability to derive meaningful realtime information from data available around us today.

So where do we start from in Nigeria to build Smart Cities? Will there be major disadvantages? What would be the cost to achieve these?

My candid opinion is to start small and focus areas/sectors that are important to our local communities, states and the country as a whole; which will provide more value to the populace, for example; traffic which is a bane for many in Lagos. It is estimated on average, that Lagosians spend an average of 3 to 6 hours daily commuting to and from work. Starting out with traffic would also aid other areas like medical, fire and security emergency services.

Let us not get carried away with building driverless cars, as I cannot see how that can add real value to our economy at the moment. However, in typical fashion, Nigeria would most likely leap frog to catchup with the next major technological innovation that awaits us in the future.

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