The future of IoT: helping local authorities protect their infrastructure assets from harm

Ever-increasing pressure is building on infrastructure assets with road traffic levels spiking again as life has returned much to normal

Weather in the UK continues to take its toll increasing flooding, storms and producing longer heatwaves. As a consequence, local authorities need to introduce maintenance strategies that preserve infrastructure assets. With budget cuts ongoing, effectively identifying and managing crucial assets with available funds is critical.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), local authorities can monitor infrastructure assets and rectify faults when required.  

IoT introduced itself to local authorities by adding sensors to street lighting with a focus on energy saving, helping them reduce carbon emissions, cut costs and become more sustainable. Subsequently, different sensors have been introduced to help authorities with motion, light, air quality and noise pollution in order to track performance against sustainability targets.

A permanent carbon impact

As assets begin to be more frequently brought online, local authorities will need to embed IoT connectivity and sensors into them. . Assets that are approaching the end of their use may fall below the necessary service levels and so benefit hugely from having their condition continually measured and tracked.

Smart infrastructure assets can assess how much energy and money they will save by first using sensors to capture relevant data which can then be analysed and used to calculate a specific danger (such as a drainage gully overflowing) to help inform decision-making, keep residents safer, driving efficiencies for the authority and helping them save costs.

An example might be using connected sensors to track streetlights, gaining a better understanding of the type of lamps that typically have defects over a specific period. That knowledge in turn will enable the authority to estimate how many of those types of lamps are likely to fail in future years. They can then generate an efficient budget for replacements, rather than having to be continuously on the back foot and reactive, effectively waiting for lamps to fail before expending time and expense getting them up and running again.

How to create a connected asset management infrastructure

With a connected asset management infrastructure, authorities can start moving beyond simply tracking and measuring one specific kind of asset such as streetlights and start to look at how interdependent the local authority’s infrastructure is.

Using the drain network as an example – when gullies get blocked and overflow, it has a huge impact on the surrounding infrastructure. Typically, many of the failures that we see with the road surface are caused by water ingress in between layers — with cold water that then freezes and therefore expands causing potholes to appear.  The fact that you’ve got different assets that are interlinked means that you will have a cause and effect across the whole network.

A connected asset management system allows authorities to model and improve understanding of dependencies between different asset types. For example, they can monitor which gullies are being blocked, where the different flood areas are and what the possible impacts this might have on each of the different asset groups. One of the biggest benefits of using sensors, IoT and connected devices for councils, is enabling them to make more efficient use of the assets they have at their disposal while keeping a lid on costs.

With greater strain on assets from weather, increasing population and so on, it is key to try to make better use of them and then, at the same time, reduce cost. When something does go wrong authorities can find out immediately and send engineers out to resolve it.

A positive future but carefulness needed

As the capability of technology evolves, we see the approach continuing to develop over time. Different asset classes will be available for local authorities to become more proficient in calculating dependencies between infrastructure. This is most likely to come from a pattern recognition, machine-learning-type of approach. Looking forward, councils should carefully monitor latest advances in sensor and IoT technology due to the significant benefits that the use of sensors brings.

The costs (both financial and environmental) mean that a careful and well-thought-out methodology should be applied to the use of sensors, not used in a random approach. Precisely pinpointing deployment by using coordinates and connected asset management strategies will ensure correct and efficient use.

Nevertheless, harnessing specific use of sensors with connected asset management technology, can be of significant benefit for authorities looking to alleviate the severe impacts of wear and tear, and climatic consequences on assets.

About the Author

Manish Jethwa is CTO at Yotta, a global connected asset management software and services provider. We empower organisations to make better, more intelligent decisions by ensuring our customers systems, assets and people are connected, and the data they produce is structured and captured to provide operational insight.. He has over a decade of experience leading diverse teams to deliver software applications that have redefined the Infrastructure Asset Management sector. He has a broad engineering background with a specialisation in Information Engineering including Machine Vision and AI and has recently been working on HCI problems and transforming complex processes into easy to use applications.

Featured image: ©Jamesteohart