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Multiple Layers of Technology Enable Smart Cities

Written by Jeff Child

Connectivity and Collaboration

From scalable wireless networks to location services to connected-vehicles, many layers make up the puzzle of today’s Smart City development efforts. Cloud services, wireless ICs and development kits all contribute to getting these applications up and running.

  • How Smart Cities are evolving

  • Ultra-wideband’s role

  • LORaWAN Coverage area concerns

  • Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Communications

  • Ultra-wideband technology

  • FiRa Consortium

  • LORaWAN

  • V2X

The notion of Smart Cities has been around for a while. It’s been tightly coupled with overall Internet-of-Things (IoT) phenomenon—with Smart Cities perhaps the ultimate expression of the IoT. That said, the number of new Smart City technology solutions definitely ramped up in the later part of 2021. The Smart City realm is comprised of numerous sub-markets, including include traffic control, public security, waste management, smart lighting, smart metering and more.

As demand for Smart City solutions accelerate, technology vendors large and small are rolling out a variety of products aimed at Smart City applications. These include LoRaWAN enabling tools, connected-vehicle gateways, LoRaWAN starter kits and more. Meanwhile, large companies are helping smaller startups with accelerator programs and industry consortiums are improving wireless standards with features useful for Smart City needs.

UWB AND SMART CITIES

Ultra-wideband (UWB) technology is becoming a critical enabler for Smart City applications. Supporting UWB dissemination is the FiRa Consortium. FiRa is dedicated to developing and widely disseminating UWB technology for secured fine ranging and positioning capabilities in a wide range of applications. This allows UWB devices to accurately and securely determine the position of other devices and easily connect infrastructures in the IoT, industrial, consumer and smartphone sectors.

In November, Infineon Technologies joined the FiRa Consortium as a Contributor member to support the expansion of the UWB ecosystem. The company’s UWB-based products are also already deployed in car access systems. Infineon says it will make use of its expertise in security, connectivity and microcontrollers to support the FiRa’s goals. As shown in Figure 1, the FiRa sees many uses for UWB technologies in a Smart City context.

Figure 1 The FiRa Consortium sees many uses for UWB technologies in a Smart Cities context.
Figure 1
The FiRa Consortium sees many uses for UWB technologies in a Smart City context.

According to Infineon, UWB’s momentum across the industry has steadily increased over the past year, and the market is expected to grow significantly. The technology is already deployed in many leading smartphone platforms as well as selected automotive car access solutions and is expected to make inroads into the industrial, IoT and consumer sectors. UWB enables real-time positioning of devices within a few centimeters with very low latency, even with multiple devices in a crowded environment. Thanks to the built-in security and high robustness associated with the technology, UWB offers a wide range of potential use cases across the industry.

UWB AND RTLS

For its part, market research firm ABI Research has some 2022 predictions about UWB, and in particular UWB used for real-time location systems (RTLS) applications—akey capabilities for Smart Cities. Released in January, ABI’s whitepaper “70 Technology Trends That Will—and Will Not—Shape 2022” [1], ABI Research analysts identify trends that either will or will not take hold in 2022.

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According the paper, UWB has re-emerged as a secure, fine-ranging technology capable of enabling a wide range of innovative location-based user experiences and services that previous wireless technologies have been unable to effectively support. This includes a combination of device-to-device and device-to-infrastructure applications, along with a range of emerging smart building, Smart City, industrial and other IoT applications. UWB technology will increasingly become an ubiquitous technology embedded within smartphones and vehicles, which will act as a catalyst for large-scale UWB adoption across a whole range of new IoT applications, says ABI. Combined, UWB is expected to reach 500 million annual shipments in 2022, growing to 1.5 billion by 2026, according to ABI Research.

Interestingly, ABI predicts that 5G positioning will not replace alternative RTLS technologies. “There is a growing acknowledgement that 5G positioning is emerging to make location-based services more accurate, precise, reliable and seamless across both indoor and outdoor environments,” says ABI, “However, 5G positioning is very much in the early days of maturity, and there are several obstacles that need to be overcome.”

LORaWAN COVERAGE MAP

As Smart City implementations evolve, the coverage area of wireless networking becomes an ever-greater issue. Serving those needs, in December Senet introduced new network visualization and planning tools to assist engineers with deploying IoT solutions at scale across the United States. Through a previously announced network integration, Senet is providing its customers with LoRaWAN connectivity from Helium-compatible Hotspots under its Extended Coverage Services. Supporting this integration, Senet has enhanced its US Coverage Map to present a harmonized view of its public carrier-grade coverage and areas covered by more than 150,000 Helium-compatible Hotspots in the US (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Senet has enhanced its US LoRaWAN Coverage Map to present a harmonized view of its public carrier-grade coverage and areas covered by more than 150,000 Helium-compatible Hotspots in the US.
Figure 2
Senet has enhanced its US LoRaWAN Coverage Map to present a harmonized view of its public carrier-grade coverage and areas covered by more than 150,000 Helium-compatible Hotspots in the US.

According to Senet, this integrated and interactive network map empowers customers with planning information from the nation’s largest and fastest growing LoRaWAN network providers. The partnership increases Senet’s metro area coverage from 1,300 to more than 2,000 cities and densifies coverage in major shipping ports, key logistics corridors and major agricultural areas. It is the first US-wide LoRaWAN network and the only LoRaWAN network in the US designed, built and operated by US-owned businesses, says Senet.

The coverage map lets you display Senet and Helium coverage from a single map view, illustrating overlapping and extended coverage areas. It has Zip code search and zoom functionality, allowing users to view the coverage available at any location. Dynamic updating is provided as new gateways and hotspots are deployed. The map is viewable on both web and mobile platforms.

Senet has also updated its Application Provider Portal tools to further assist its customers with network coverage guidance and density information for application development and deployment planning. Through the click of a mouse, Senet customers can “drop a pin” on a network planning map. Subsequently, path quality to that location from the Senet network is automatically calculated and displayed along with the display of the number of Helium gateways in proximity to that location.

URBAN FOREST MANAGEMENT

LoRa technology from Semtech is used in more Smart City applications than we can count. But a rather unique one was announced in November. Semtech announced that ICT International, an IoT solution provider for environmental applications, is leveraging Semtech’s LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN standard to improve urban forest management and carbon accounting (Figure 3).

Figure 3 ICT International is leveraging Semtech’s LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN standard to improve urban forest management and carbon accounting.
Figure 3
ICT International is leveraging Semtech’s LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN standard to improve urban forest management and carbon accounting.

ICT International’s range of plant physiology devices are able to monitor the health of the urban forest in real time via a LoRaWAN network, says Semtech. The products are able to measure plant water use (sap flow), soil moisture and vapor pressure deficit, and can identify periods of low soil moisture and high plant water stress. Addressing these factors can quickly help trees remain healthy, providing valuable ecosystem services to the community as well as measurable carbon capture.

The key devices in the collaboration included the SFM1L Sap Flow Meter and the PSY1 Stem Psychrometer, which ICT International have deployed throughout cities in New South Wales, Australia to identify the ongoing water requirements of the urban forest.

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Through using LoRaWAN, these unique devices are capable of continuously measuring plant water use (SFM1L) and plant water stress (PSY1), while transmitting the data to the decision maker.

Semtech says that the real-time monitoring enabled by the LoRaWAN connectivity is providing actionable data to the forest’s surrounding city water allocation and irrigation departments to make decisions on maintaining the health of the urban forest.

LORaWAN STARTER KIT

Clearly LoRaWAN is a popular technology for Smart City applications. But getting started can be a challenge. Along just such lines, last summer Digi International unveiled an enterprise starter kit providing a complete LoRaWAN device-to-cloud solution. The turnkey starter kit offers a scalable, device-to-cloud onboarding experience that saves time, capital and resources. The Digi solution helps enterprises meet their digital transformation needs with faster time to market, minimal integration cost or complexity. The new solution is based on technology from Digi’s recent acquisition of Haxiot, a leader in device-to-cloud LoRaWAN-based solutions.

Designed for scalability and easy deployment, Digi’s LoRaWAN starter kit aims to dramatically improve the user experience with a cohesive device, gateway and cloud solution. In addition, Digi offers deep expertise in assisting customers designing and deploying secure, mission critical IoT solutions. This enables customers in verticals such as agriculture, oil and gas, utilities and manufacturing to take advantage of the long-range wide area wireless technology.

The Digi LoRaWAN kit includes a multi-sensor device, a multichannel gateway and X-ON cloud IoT free trial (Figure 4). The X-ON cloud demonstrates automated provisioning for devices and gateways. The kit provides a cloud application using the X-ON industrial IoT platform, a highly scalable microservices platform for large-scale LoRaWAN solutions. Each gateway supports 1.5 million messages per day delivered to the X-ON cloud. The included HXG3000 gateway offers high receive sensitivity and up to 27dBm transmit power to deliver long-range, non-line-of-sight, two-way communications over LoRaWAN. The starter kit provides LoRaWAN Class A and Class C for both low-power battery and always-on real-time cloud-to-device control applications, respectively.

Figure 4 The Digi LoRaWAN kit includes a multi-sensor device, a multi-channel gateway and X-ON cloud IoT free trial.
Figure 4
The Digi LoRaWAN kit includes a multi-sensor device, a multi-channel gateway and X-ON cloud IoT free trial.

The Digi LoRaWAN Client Shield (expansion board) supports rapid prototyping and development of LoRaWAN sensors on ST Nucleo and Arduino platforms. The client shield features the LoRaWAN module, addressing long-range, low-power, wide-area networks (LPWAN), with stackable Arduino connectors, digital input switch, RGB LED, u.FL connector, antenna and temperature sensor. An embedded AT command language and simplified Mbed C++ Embedded API support rapid integration. The client shield is compatible with select ST Nucleo and Arduino boards providing LoRaWAN client-side connectivity.

V2X GATEWAY

The idea of Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) is a term that’s all-encompassing for a vehicle’s connected communications. Although V2X arguably falls into the connected car side of technology, a major aspect of V2X is about interfacing with infrastructure and that is definitely in the Smart City realm. With that in mind, in November iWave Systems Technologies launched a hybrid V2X Connectivity Hub with the provision to also fit in as a rugged telematics gateway (Figure 5). The device is based on NXP’s i.MX 8XLite processor.

Figure 5 This hybrid V2X Connectivity Hub has the provision to also serve as a rugged telematics gateway. The device is based on NXP’s i.MX 8XLite processor used in development ofsmart cities
Figure 5
This hybrid V2X Connectivity Hub has the provision to also serve as a rugged telematics gateway. The device is based on NXP’s i.MX 8XLite processor.

The V2X Hub is designed to enable the connectivity between Smart Cities and Connected Mobility. Integrated with C-V2X and DSRC technologies, the hybrid V2X Connectivity hub can be positioned as an “On-Board Unit” within the vehicles, as well as a “Road-Side Unit” to fit into external infrastructure.

The new-generation telematics gateway is offers four CAN interfaces and a plethora of wired interfaces such as RS485, RS232 and analog inputs. It is well suited for various telematics and connected vehicle applications. With multiple wireless connectivity options such as 4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the gateway can power advanced telematics applications while bringing intelligence to the edge.

The i.MX 8XLite processor from NXP is purpose-built to support standalone telematics units in automotive applications while enabling seamless, cost-effective upgrades to advanced V2X capabilities. The integrated on-chip V2X accelerator frees up the processor’s main CPU to perform other system and application tasks.

To enable system developers to rapidly develop their solutions, iWave provides a complete software BSP (board support package). Linux kernel is supported on the BSP with the API for all the peripherals available. The API and root access provides customers the flexibility and transparency to build their customer software and analytics applications. The gateway is integrated with protocol stacks such as J1939, CANopen and ISO 15675-4, making the solution compatible with different vehicle standards and architectures.

TESTING V2X SCENARIOS

Also focusing on V2X, in October NXP Semiconductors showcased new safety scenarios enabled by vehicle-to-vehicle communication (Vehicle-to-X or V2X) as part of the 2021 ITS World Congress in Hamburg. NXP worked with partners, such Riese & Müller, to highlight better protection for vulnerable road users, new V2X application scenarios designed to help prevent traffic accidents and e-bike safety demonstrations.

NXP’s V2X technology is based on 802.11p, a communication standard also known as DSRC (Dedicated Short-Range Communication) (Figure 6). Optimized for automobiles, 802.11p allows vehicles, road infrastructure and other road users to exchange information in real time.

Figure 6 NXP worked with partners such Riese & Müller, to highlight better protection for vulnerable road users, in development of smart cities
Figure 6
NXP worked with partners such Riese & Müller, to highlight better protection for vulnerable road users, new V2X application scenarios designed to help prevent traffic accidents and e-bike safety demonstrations. NXP’s V2X technology is based on 802.11p.

Every year, more than 1.3 million people are killed in road accidents across the world and more than 50% of the fatalities are cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists, says NXP. Technologies such as V2X and driver assistance systems can make a significant contribution to help reduce these numbers and are already in standard use in selected passenger car models today.

To demonstrate how the safety of road users can be enhanced, NXP and Riese & Müller built a smart electric bicycle prototype. The demonstration combines NXP’s RoadLINK automotive-qualified DSRC modem and Hardware Secure Element IC for V2X applications, with the Cohda Wireless’ On–Board Unit. The configuration enables the e-bike to transmit data on its position, speed and direction of travel to other V2X-enabled vehicles in the vicinity that could pose a potential danger to the cyclist. The module calculates the distances between road users and position changes within seconds. In the event of a dangerous situation, both the cyclist and a car’s driver, would receive a timely collision warning.

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Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 R2

In early January, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced the availability of Wi-Fi Certified Release 2. According to the group, the release brings new features that support increasing device and traffic density to deliver greater performance and power management with Wi-Fi devices and applications. Wi-Fi Certified 6 Release 2 adds support for uplink multi-user multiple input, multiple output (multi-user MIMO) (Figure 7).

Figure 7 Shown here are the general benefits of Wi-Fi Certified 6. Release 2 adds to this support for uplink multi-user multiple input, multiple output (multi-user MIMO) and improved power management.
Figure 7
Shown here are the general benefits of Wi-Fi Certified 6. Release 2 adds to this support for uplink multi-user multiple input, multiple output (multi-user MIMO) and improved power management.

Uplink multi-user MIMO improves network performance and reduces latency while video conferencing, uploading documents and any other mission-critical applications that require greater uplink capacity. This is an important development for Smart Cities. Wi-Fi 6 deployments are increasing worldwide in large office buildings, public arenas, education campuses, high rise dwellings and mass transportation hubs, and advanced Wi-Fi 6 capabilities drive innovation in the countless applications that rely on Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi Certified 6 Release 2 delivers comprehensive multi-user MIMO implementation to deliver strong Wi-Fi performance even in challenging environments with many Wi-Fi devices.

The new release adds three power management features that improve Wi-Fi Certified 6 power efficiency, benefitting enterprise, industrial and IoT applications. New features apply across all bands supported by Wi-Fi 6—2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz—bringing capacity, efficiency, coverage and performance benefits to residential, enterprise, and large public networks. Wi-Fi Certified 6 delivers the best experience with advanced applications, while providing strong WPA3 security and promoting interoperability between Wi-Fi Certified devices.

DATA REPOSITORY

Because Smart Cities is an emerging market, startups are in need of data to plan their development efforts. Feeding such needs, in November SmartCone Technologies announced a technology partnership with the Canada’s Centre for Integrated Transportation and Mobility (CITM). SmartCone is working to build a database architecture and platform that will capture data from all Smart Mobility Networks, both 4G and 5G elements, Intelligent IoT Nodes, C-V2X device, IoT devices and other sensors installed on the Smart Mobility Networks (Figure 8).

Currently, there are two Smart Mobility Network sites in operation within the City of Hamilton, Ontario, a public testbed located on the Mountain in Hamilton, referred to as the “Urban Test Environment” and a private testbed within McMaster Innovation Park, referred to as the “Office Park Test Environment.”

CITM’s Smart Mobility R&D Network (SMN) and Smart City IoT Data Repository were built to support start-ups and small and medium enterprise (SME) business clients with product development, R&D and testing of smart mobility and transportation solutions. As one of three CITM technology partners, SmartCone’s hardware and software became an integral part of the SMN in 2020 and is also a key component of the data repository. Clients can use these technological resources for free, gaining access to a complex test environment that includes both 4G/5G wireless connectivity, cloud storage, IoT/Compute at the Edge capability and a V2X platform.

CITM’s ultimate goal was to design and deliver a test environment providing clients with access to real-time and cumulative data to support the development and commercialization of new technologies. As part of the multi-test environment, which also includes Nokia and iSmartWays technology, Smartcone sensors provide business clients with IoT sensor data from real-world urban intersections and roadways, and delivers true compute-at-the-edge capabilities.

SMART CITY ACCELERATOR

Another company helping to fuel Smart City technology development is Qualcomm. In April 2019 the company launched the Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator Program. Today the effort has progressed into a global ecosystem, consisting of 400+ members including system integrators, hardware and software providers, cloud solution providers, design and manufacturing companies and more. Their united goal is delivering smart end-to-end solutions for modern city spaces and enterprises. This ecosystem is enabling IoT-as-a-Service (IoTaaS) by using the Qualcomm IoT Services Suite.

Last fall, Qualcomm IoT Services Suite introduced enhanced platform features to deliver additional capabilities. This includes drag-and-drop deployment with low code development. Also supported is automated device onboarding and management. The suite new offers streamlined device configuration and customizable user-interface (UI). Other features include integrated standard operating procedures (SOP) workflow, along with edge-AI and cloud integration.

In November, E-peas announced it was joining the Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator Program (Figure 9). According to E-peas, one of the critical areas in managing IoT platforms for Smart City applications is how to power the sensors/edge devices involved. Because these devices are distributed around a city, replacing the batteries when they fail is a costly and tedious process. Furthermore, disposing of all of these batteries becomes a significant environmental problem.

Figure 9 E-peas’ family of Ambient Energy Manager (AEM) ICs are able to manage the power within energy harvesting circuitry. As part of the Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator Program, E-peas says it plans bring greater energy autonomy to smart cities IoT devices.
Figure 9
E-peas’ family of Ambient Energy Manager (AEM) ICs are able to manage the power within energy harvesting circuitry. As part of the Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator Program, E-peas says it plans bring greater energy autonomy to smart city IoT devices.

E-peas’ family of Ambient Energy Manager (AEM) ICs are able to manage the power within energy harvesting circuitry. These circuits can draw energy from numerous different sources—including solar, thermal gradients, electromechanical/vibrations and RF. As part of the Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator Program, E-peas says it plans to bring greater energy autonomy to Smart City IoT devices.

SMART METERING SOLUTION

Smart metering is an application that fits into the overall scope of Smart City technology. In November, STMicroelectronics (ST) extended the certification of its ST8500 G3-PLC (Power-Line Communication) Hybrid communication chipset, now covering the US FCC (Federal Communications Commission) band plan from 10kHz to 490kHz (Figure 10), in addition to the CENELEC-A 9kHz to 95kHz European band. The move enables higher data rates, enhances design flexibility and eases end-product approval in accordance with specific national regulations, says ST.

Figure 10 ST extended the certification of its ST8500 G3-PLC Hybrid communication chipset, now covering the US FCC band plan from 10kHz to 490kHz, in addition to the CENELEC-A 9kHz-95kHz European band.
Figure 10
ST extended the certification of its ST8500 G3-PLC Hybrid communication chipset, now covering the US FCC band plan from 10kHz to 490kHz, in addition to the CENELEC-A 9kHz-95kHz European band.

The G3-PLC Hybrid profile enables smart, connected devices to select powerline or wireless comms autonomously, and change dynamically to ensure reliable connectivity and optimum performance. ST’s ST8500 G3-PLC Hybrid chipset comprises the ST8500 protocol controller SoC, which supports RF mesh for reliable long-range wireless communication, the STLD1 PLC line driver, and the S2-LP low-power IEEE 802.15.4 RF transceiver. In addition to smart electricity meters, the chipset delivers robust and reliable connectivity for gas and water smart meters, environmental monitors, lighting controllers and remote sensors in contexts such as Smart Cities, smart infrastructure, smart buildings and smart factories.

To accelerate development of smart, connected nodes that leverage the G3-PLC Hybrid profile for dual PLC and RF connectivity, ST has created a support ecosystem that includes the EVLKST8500GH868 and EVLKST8500GH915 development kits that work at 868MHz and 915MHz, respectively. Each kit contains a development board to build one node that combines the ST8500 and S2-LP chipset with an STM32G070RB host MCU and allows custom functions to be added using Nucleo expansion boards. The associated STSW-ST8500GH software framework includes ST’s G3-PLC Hybrid communication stack, Protocol Engine and Real-Time Engine modem firmware images and a framework based on ST’s STM32CubeMX tool. 

Reference:
[1] https://go.abiresearch.com/lp-70-technology-trends-that-will-and-wont-shape-2022?utm_source=media&utm_medium=email

RESOURCES
Digi International | www.digi.com
E-peas | www.e-peas.com
FiRa Consortium | www.firaconsortium.org
Infineon Technologies | www.infineon.com
iWave Systems Technologies | www.iwavesystems.com
NXP Semiconductor | www.nxp.com
Senet | www.senetco.com
Semtech | www.semtech.com
STMicroelectronics | www.st.com

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • FEBRUARY 2021 #379 – Get a PDF of the issue

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Former Editor-in-Chief at Circuit Cellar | Website | + posts

Jeff served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxGizmos.com and its sister publication, Circuit Cellar magazine 6/2017—3/2022. In nearly three decades of covering the embedded electronics and computing industry, Jeff has also held senior editorial positions at EE Times, Computer Design, Electronic Design, Embedded Systems Development, and COTS Journal. His knowledge spans a broad range of electronics and computing topics, including CPUs, MCUs, memory, storage, graphics, power supplies, software development, and real-time OSes.

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Multiple Layers of Technology Enable Smart Cities

by Jeff Child time to read: 14 min