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Smart thermal: Using technology to enhance situational awareness & data-driven operations

(Image credit: Image Credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock)

Smart cities are regarded as an ecosystem of technologies driven by data and analytics to manage assets and resources efficiently. The idea of what a smart city is, and the technology that will be used to create it, is constantly changing. We’re now seeing the idea of smart city solutions come to the fore, where localities can rapidly shape and customise user-specific applications to enhance public safety.

Advancements in transport and energy sectors are expected to be the big drivers of smart city spending over the coming decade, with global spend reaching nearly $124 billion this year alone. The vision of a fully connected city through technological innovations have well surpassed what current infrastructure can provide. That said, some advancements in this sector are already playing a huge role in the safety of operations throughout Europe - UK, Germany, Belgium - to name a few.

From roadways, streets, and intersections, to buildings, critical infrastructure and public spaces, smart sensing solutions are becoming an essential part of the technology needed to improve the safety of public operations. These systems are already making a difference and are allowing us to visualise a future connected city based on situational awareness and data driven operations - but how can we tap into the technology and infrastructure already available?

Intelligent transport systems

Thermal imaging technology tracks heat movement, in any situation or condition, and extends the visibility of traditional cameras by up to four-times. This has been rolled out in many cities across the globe. By connecting cities through the implementation of intelligent transportation solutions – like smart thermal and visible imaging systems that monitor traffic flow and detect incidents – cities can better inform road users of hazards, delays and alternate routes to keep everyone moving. 

Hamburg, one of the most congested cities in Germany, is building a reputation as the most innovative smart city in the country. Smart solutions provide resolution to the issue Hamburg’s commuters face, with 113 hours a year being wasted to traffic jams - by providing a better picture of traffic dynamics. City authorities are installing thermal imaging technology to traffic and street lights by 2021 which will allow authorities to  “see” data-points. These cameras are interconnected via a cloud-based system which allows for high-resolution and real-time information to be collected and analysed, resulting in fully comprehensive datasets from 420 intersections across Hamburg.

Traffic controllers are able to differentiate between pedestrians, vehicle types and cyclists allowing them to accurately count and process how busy the roads are, enabling them to adjust signals in real-time.  The cloud-based system allows for the seamless transfer of information across the city, meaning that controllers can improve long-term planning and reduce blockages across the city, so traffic flow is adapted to minimise daily congestion.

Enhancing situational awareness

Technological advancements in this sector are already playing a huge role in the safety of operations throughout Europe. In Durham, UK, city authorities recently deployed FLIR’s thermal imaging sensors onto pre-existing road signs to build a unique collision avoidance system that reduced the number of collisions at the junction to zero. By putting electronic road signs that spur signalisation into action, upon the detection of a passing object, has helped prevent crashes and save lives. Over-time this can change driver behaviour through early-warning systems that prevent heavy breaking, allow drivers to adapt their speed accordingly and drive more economically.

Having this data to hand enables city authorities to analyse the information and utilise this to optimise infrastructure performance and make roads safer. By getting ahead of rush hour on busy arterials to posting travel-times on variable messaging boards, across the city, technology is enabling urban planners and dwellers to make smarter, safer transport decisions.

Data-driven city connectivity

As city agency operators and first responders can share data and detect incidents in real-time, this also allows for more collaborative and efficient interactions, maximising safety. Working with a single platform to enable data sharing, inter-device connectivity and end-user infrastructures provides greater control for command centres to enhance public safety operations.

The dynamics and scalability of cloud platforms enables these solutions to be tailored to address specific needs and operate seamlessly within any city-level operation, management platform, and associated interface. Through one central node of communication, control centres are granted a unified access point with global displays and AI driven-data processing, allowing for a faster, more unified response across the city - and regardless of the scenario.

By connecting cities through intelligent transportation solutions – like FLIR’s smart thermal and visible imaging systems that monitor traffic flow and detect incidents – we can better inform travellers of hazards, delays and alternate routes to keep people moving. These systems are already making a difference and allow for the visualisation of a future connected city based on situational awareness and data-driven operations. An upcoming webinar, on 19th May, focuses in on Hamburg is further developing and renewing existing infrastructure.

The concept of smart cities, and their possibilities, are constantly changing while their purpose remains centred on public safety. Communities are empowered by having greater capacity to shape and customise user-specific applications to meet their needs, while the vision of a fully connected city through innovation has exceeded what the current infrastructure can provide. As we’ve seen through city operations in Hamburg and Durham, it’s possible to transform existing infrastructure into part of an interconnected ecosystem of technologies. Through this, citizens are kept better informed of hazards, delays and alternative routes - keeping them moving and keeping communities safe.

Michael Deruytter, Director of Product, Intelligent Traffic Systems, FLIR Systems