Last Updated on April 8, 2011
How many times, stuck in traffic on a hot August day, we hoped to have a pair of wings to fly through the clouds and free from the wreckage of burning metal.
Unfortunately, at least for me (even if my second name in English would sound exactly like Sparrows) no wing so far, miraculously, popped up to save me, nevertheless I am quite confident that, in a quite near future, I will be saved by the clouds even if I will not be able to fly, or better said, I will be saved by cloud technologies that will help me, and the other poor drivers bottled between the asphalt and the hot metal, under the ruthless August sun to avoid unnecessary endless traffic jams on Friday afternoons.
Some giants of Information Technology (Cisco and IBM in primis) are exploring and experimenting such similar solutions, aimed to provide Car Drivers with real time information about traffic and congestions in order to suggest them the optimal route. In this way they will provide a benefit to the individual, avoiding him a further amount of unnecessary stress, and to the community as well, contributing to fight pollution and making the whole environment more livable and enjoyable.
The main ingredients of this miraculous technological recipe consist in Mobile Technologies and cloud technologies and the reasons are apparently easy to understand: everybody always carries with him a smartphone which is an incommensurable real time probe source of precious data necessary to model a traffic jam (assuming that it will be ever possible to model a traffic jam in the middle of the Big Ring of Rome): as a matter of fact a smartphone allows to provide real-time traffic information correlated with important parameters such as GPS position, average speed, etc.
Cloud technologies provide the engine to correlate information coming from mobile devices (and embedded devices) belonging to many different vehicles, providing the computational (dynamically allocated) resources needed to aggregate and make coherent data from many moving sources in different points of the same city or different interconnected cities. Cloud technologies may act a a single, independent, point of collection for data gathered on each device, dynamically allocating resources on-demand (let us suppose to have, in the same moment, two different jams, one of which is growing to an exponential rate and requires, progressively more and more computational resources), providing, to the individual (and to the City Administrators) a real time comprehensive framework, coherent and updated (nobody would hope to be led, by his navigator, to a diversion with a traffic-jam much worse than the original one which caused the diversion.
Of course, already today many consumer navigators offer the possibility to provide real-time traffic information, anyway the huge adoption of cloud technologies will offer an unprecedented level of flexibility together with the possibility to deal with a huge amount of data and to correlate the collected information with other data sources (for instance the V2V Veichle2Veichle e V2I Veichle2Infrastructure). From the city administrations perspective, the collected data will be invaluable for identifying the more congested points (and drive the subsequent proper targeted corrective actions), and moreover for supporting a coherent and sustainable development of the city.
Cisco and IBM are working hard to make this dream become true in few years with different approaches converging to the cloud: Cisco is leveraging the network intelligence for a project pilot in the Korean City of Busan (3.6 million of inhabitants). Cisco vision aims, in the third phase of the project scheduled before the end of 2014, to provide the citizens with many different mobile services in the cloud, with a Software-As-A-Service approach. Those services are dedicated to improve urban mobility, distance, energy management and safety. A similar project has recently been announced also for the Spanish City of Barcelona.
The IBM project, more focused on applications, is called The Smarter City and aims to integrate all the aspects of city management (traffic, safety, public services, etc..) within a common IT infrastructure. Few days ago the announcement that some major cities of the Globe, for instance Washington and Waterloo (Ontario), will participate to the initiative.
Even if the cloud provides computing power, dynamicity, flexibility and the ability to aggregate heterogeneous data sources at an abstract layer, a consistent doubt remains, and it is represented by security issues for the infrastructure… Apart from return on investment considerations (for which there are not yet consistent statistics because of the relative youth of the case studies depicted above), similar initiatives will succeed in their purpose only if supported by a robust security and privacy model. I already described in several posts the threats related to mobile devices, but in this case the cloud definitely makes the picture even worse because of the centralization of the information (but paradoxically this may also be an advantage if one is able to protect it well.) and the coexistence of heterogeneous data, even though logically separated, on the same infrastructure. As a consequence compromising the only point that contains all the data coming from heterogeneous sources that govern the physiological processes of a city, could have devastating impacts since the system would be affected at different levels and the users at different services. Not to mention, moreover, in case of wider use of this technologies, the ambitions of cyberterrorism that could, with a single computer attack, cripple the major cities around the globe.