Both the city of Athens and Ohio University are interested in using Internet of Things, or IoT, technology in order to make the campus and city run more efficiently.

IoT is technology that connects to a network in order to provide data in a more streamlined manner. The devices could be computers, or any sort of software or technology. Linking those devices on a network allows for data to be transferred in a faster manner for humans, which improves overall efficiency.

OU underwent a wireless network upgrade in the late summer 2018, Sean O’Malley, communications manager at the Office of Information Technology, said. The upgrade allowed for 3,700 self-registered items to become usable on campus for the first time. 

“OIT does not track what these devices are, but they can range from video game systems to smart speakers, smart light bulbs or other technology,” O’Malley said in an email. “Wireless printers can now be used in residence halls for the first time, as well.”

More broadly, IoT technology is used in the university’s utility systems. Joel Baetens, Ohio University Director of Utilities, said the IoT systems used in utilities saves resources and time in the field.

OU’s water treatment utilities use internet connected controllers. Those controllers oversee the distribution and timing of chemical treatment for the water and run diagnostics tests. This overall saves the department time, Baetens said.

“In the past we would need to physically observe and test these systems daily,” Baetens said in an email. “Now we can read the reports daily and check on them weekly.”

Similar forms of IoT technology are used in OU’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, control systems, and Utility and Plant metering, Baetens said.

The university may implement more upgrades in order to improve internet speed and overall technological effectiveness.

“Future upgrades will significantly update both the range and speed of wireless internet access, which in turn will allow for any number of future Internet of Things devices to be used by individuals, colleges or departments,” O’Malley said in an email.

Although the city of Athens is yet to officially implement any IoT systems, some projects are in the works. Robert C. Heady, director of Public Works and city engineer, said that IoT could greatly help the city in certain areas, such as traffic control. IoT could help the city better control the signal timing of streetlights in order to fix traffic congestion, Heady said. There are other possible benefits IoT could offer Athens in terms of traffic.

“Many benefits are yet to be discovered,” Heady said in an email. “However, connection of the traffic control system to real time data from traffic cameras and/or connected vehicles could allow real time signal timing adjustments, or posting of data on message boards like the one on Richland Avenue to provide crash data to travelers.”

One project Athens is working to implement is a smart parking meter system. There would be an app working in conjunction with the parking meters to notify people of open parking spaces. Those looking to park could also use the app to pay their meter. Some steps in implementing this system have already been taken, Heady said.

“We have installed conduit on many of our recent street projects to allow for installation of fiber optic lines to be the backbone of a connected system,” Heady said in an email.  “We are also actively working with Drive Ohio to pursue autonomous vehicle testing opportunities which require multiple connection points.”

Earlier this year, City Council heard a presentation from Morgan Melendrez of Tanko Lighting about the city taking acquisition of its streetlights. This would allow the city to switch to LED streetlights. LED streetlights would help the city save $2.1 million in energy and maintenance in 20 years, Melendrez said. It would also open the opportunity for small cell technology. Small cell would be put on the streetlights, and the city already has design guidelines for where small cell could be placed, Heady said.

“Small cell can be used to enhance 4G cellular coverage in high usage areas and to provide 5G cellular service, which is approximately 30-50 times faster than 4G,” Heady said in an email.

Athens is working hard to take advantage of new infrastructure that could use IoT and other forms of technology, Heady said. The problem lies in ensuring both infrastructure and technology associated with it will keep up with changes in future years.

“Our limited resources require carefully planning,” Heady said in an email. “However, we are working hard to educating ourselves to position the City to be able to capture new technologies and any benefits or savings from them.”


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