Marco Evers reports on the Spanish port city of Santander's (pop 180,000) pioneering efforts at creating an integrated smart city, which have become the envy of those aspiring to integrate emerging technologies with municipal operations.
Thanks to a $11.7 million grant from the EU, IT professor Luis Muñoz has been able to install 10,000 sensors around the city's downtown. "The sensors are hidden inside small gray boxes attached to street lamps, poles and building walls. Some are even buried beneath the asphalt of parking lots," says Evers. "Day in and day out, these sensors measure more or less everything that can be measured: light, pressure, temperature, humidity, even the movements of cars and people."
"A central computer compiles the data into one big picture that is constantly being updated. Santander is a digital city, and everything here gets recorded. The system knows exactly where the traffic jams are and where the air is bad. Noise and ozone maps show what parts of the city are exceeding EU limits. Things can get particularly interesting when a major street is blocked because of an accident. Muñoz can observe in real time how that event affects traffic in the rest of the city."
The sensors are just one aspect of the city's intelligent features. The "Pulse of the City" app connects Santanderinos to their city's data streams.
"For example, someone waiting at a bus stop and wanting to know when the next bus will arrive needs only to start up the smartphone app and point the phone toward the bus stop. The phone immediately displays all bus lines that serve that stop, as well as their arrival times. Pointing the phone at the city's concert hall brings up the program of events over the next several days and weeks. A tourist holding a smartphone toward a downtown fountain learns when the fountain was built and by whom, while opening the app near a supermarket provides information on current special offers."