Three years ago, Luis Muñoz, an IT professor at the University of Cantabria, won an $11.1 million grant from the European Commission to pay for 12,000 sensors to be buried underground and affixed to everything from street lamps, utility polls, and city buses. The sensors are in the old port city to track everything from air pollution to surf conditions at beaches, to free parking spaces.
With about 180,000 residents, the city of Santander, Spain is small enough to be saturated with the new gadgets, so Europe has made it a testing model for the sensors before expanding into larger cities. Researchers can use the sensors to determine how best to reduce the populous’ daily stress and the coffers of the city’s municipality.
The gadgets include street signs equipped with digital panels that display real-time parking information for every block. In addition to sending data to Santander’s command-and-control center, the sensors also send it to a suite of applications on citizens’ smartphones.So Santander residents can access up-to-the-minute information on road closures, parking availability, bus delays, or the pollen count.
Coming soon: wireless-enabled meters that monitor water consumption at homes and businesses, phasing out door-to-door meter readers. Mayor Iñigo de la Serna says the effort, known as SmartSantander, will cut city waste-management bills 20 percent this year, and he projects a 25 percent drop in energy bills as sensors conserve use in public building systems. “Smart innovation is improving our economic fabric and the quality of life,” the mayor says. “It has changed the way we work.”
Thousands of urban centers are experimenting with pieces of the so-called smart-city model. They range from Atlanta’s wireless-enabled water meters to Stockholm’s digital traffic-management system, which it says has cut average commute times nearly in half.