According to the head of an Australian environmental consulting services company, the first part of improving environmental quality is tracking it, overcoming regular methods that only capture a few locations and focus on basic displays of real-time data.

Robin Ormerod, the Managing Director of EnviroSuite, says, “Often, the information displayed lacks context, and it is difficult for decision makers to use when managing environmental quality.”

See Also: How to avoid a massive smart city pitfall

“While much of the smart city focus tends to be on features such as high-speed networks, intelligent control systems and efficient transportation options, there are opportunities to go even further. Increasingly, smart city projects are also including objectives to improve the health of its citizens, based on systems that monitor and manage environmental factors, such as air and water quality,” explains Ormerod.

EnviroSuite also provides environmental tracking software with the same name. Ormerod is focused on using the large amounts of sensor data being generated to make big improvements.

“Collected data can range from the air quality on city streets to the water quality and levels in streams and rivers. Other sensors can measure wind conditions, temperatures, and ambient noise levels. Most importantly, when combined in a clever way, these different sources can be used to predict problem areas, or provide early warnings of potential environmental problems, so that these issues can be avoided with efficient action, “Ormerod says.

Oremerod continues, “For example, if air quality is poor (or predicted to be poor), traffic levels could be dynamically managed to improve air quality. This is much more efficient than the strict bans on vehicles that have been imposed in some cities. Citizens could also be sent automated notifications advising them of the best course of action to improve air quality, with targeted messages to different types of vehicles that contribute most to the issue. Meanwhile, data collected by water quality sensors (or predicted by high-accuracy rainfall forecast) can alert the city to changing conditions. For example, runoff after heavy rain might cause localized flooding, issues for swimmers or water treatment plants. Alerts could be issued to citizens or treatment plant operators, with follow-up notices as soon as the sensors determine that conditions have improved.”

Easy to implement?

Ormerod doesn’t believe that implementing a city-wide environmental tracking system has to be a complex process, stating that he thinks the systems needed could be stored in cloud-based data centers and run with inexpensive hardware

“The sensors themselves can be located on existing infrastructure such as light poles, bus shelters, building exteriors and water pipes. Once in place, they require little or no maintenance and most can be powered by solar cells. The data they produce can be fed back for analysis via an existing network or 3G/4G networks,” he continues.

This system will be most useful once the monitoring and forecasting of environmental data is interpreted and communicated in a real-time format that allows decision makers to implement smart city solutions that can improve the quality of life in the cities they manage.