In a 2017 Infrastructure Report Card done by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), America’s Infrastructure scores a D+ . The country’s entire infrastructure is in poor condition, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. For example, the energy system (which also scores D+) is described as follows: “Most electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy, and the more than 640,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the lower 48 states’ power grids are at full capacity.”
As we can see, there are very good reasons to implement an infrastructure plan. But details are still unknown, as there is not yet an official White House document addressing the plan. As a result, many are wondering how it will affect future private investments and how public-private partnerships will work. One thing is for sure: The infrastructure plan will create jobs and generate demand for new technology that can truly renovate cities, such as smart technology, that could be cost-effective and innovative. To share your thoughts on how Trump’s infrastructure plan may impact our industry, please take our survey.
The use of smart or digital technologies has proven successful in many smart-city projects around the globe, which should be taken into account when planning the enhancement of the American infrastructure. “Many have agreed that digital technologies and more precisely information and communications technology (ICT) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the backbone of the cities of the future. It is true that without them, urban transformation would be impossible,” says Ugo Valenti, director of Smart City Expo World Congress. (To learn more about successful smart city projects in cities like New York City, read “What exactly is a smart city?”)
One of the technologies driving smart cities is the smart sensor. These sensors, which are the workhorses of the IoT, provide a high volume of information in real-time. If the data is well analyzed, the resulting information can be used to help cities function more efficiently. Infrastructure issues like major power outages, traffic congestion, and monitoring structurally deficient bridges (to name a few) can be fixed with the use of embedded sensors in repaired or renewed infrastructure.
The Technology that Will Support the Plan
Such infrastructure applications represent a definite opportunity for chip companies. Recognizing the increase in demand for sensors and the business opportunities in the IoT market, semiconductor companies are constantly developing better sensing solutions that are economically sustainable. Some companies even offer complete IoT ecosystems or solutions that can sense, measure, interpret, and connect in real-time. Semiconductor companies are trying to lead the IoT market with integrated semiconductor solutions. Some of them have acquired sensing technologies to enhance their IoT business. In recent months, we have been hearing about Qualcomm acquiring NXP. This deal, which is expected to close later this year, will be the biggest in the semiconductor industry’s history. (To read more about it, read “Antitrust Investigators Probe Qualcomm's NXP Deal In Europe.”)
Through research and development, universities also keep advancing sensor technologies. For example, Washington State University received a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium to develop small sensors that will be affixed to bridges. Those sensors will send ultrasonic waves through concrete to identify cracks or degraded material without the need to drill into the concrete. The sensor is made of piezoelectric material (PZT), a type of crystal that allows mechanical energy, such as squeezing or stretching, to be converted to electrical energy. “The smart sensing technology can be used to identify damage in bridges, monitor safety conditions, assist bridge-maintenance decision making, and help the DOT perform forensic studies on premature failures,” says Pizhong Qiao, a professor in WSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
In America, smart city challenges have already solved problems for many citizens and there are many small smart projects in the making. Here are some examples of recent smart projects awarded to vendors by cities across America:
- Water Meter Installation (City of Chicago, IL): Chicago agreed to a $16 million contract award with Professional Meters, Inc. for the installation and maintenance of new water meters throughout the city.
- Network Infrastructure and Telephone System Replacement Project (City of Fort Worth, Texas): The City of Fort Worth’s IT solutions department gave Presidio Networked Solutions Group a $7M award for replacing their telephone system and updating associated network infrastructure.
- General Electrical Rehabilitation (City of Baton Rouge and Parish of East Baton Rouge, La.): Baton Rouge recently awarded a nearly $10M contract to Ernest P. Breaux Electrical LLC for providing electrical rehabilitation at the city’s North Wastewater Treatment Plant.
These are just some examples showing how the demand for sensors has increased as IoT applications are gaining more users. If smart technologies can be part of the modernization of the American infrastructure, the smart-city movement will proliferate faster while directly aiding the American citizens. For now, we will have to stay tuned for the next official announcement of the White House regarding the infrastructure plan and how it will play out.
Please, don’t forget to share your thoughts on how Trump’s infrastructure plan may impact our industry by taking our survey today.