IoT And Protecting The Public

Yesterday, right before an early-summer torrential downpour in New York City, a crane on 38th and Madison (a few blocks from where I live) dropped an air conditioner from a height of 30 stories to the ground. Somehow, the air conditioner became detached from the crane, taking out windows and ledges on its way down and raining glass and metal shards on passersby.  Though about 10 people were injured, none were fatally injured. In Major De Blasio’s own words:

Thank God this incident occurred at an hour of the day on a weekend when there weren’t too many people around.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first major accident to have happened this year.  Just two months ago, there was a massive gas explosion near St. Mark’s Place that left 25 people injured and 3 dead. This happened nearly a week after the one-year anniversary of the East Harlem explosion that killed 9 people and leveled two buildings.

Building at 121 Second Avenue in East Village, near Seventh Street collapsed after it was rocked by a blast and a fierce fire that sent black smoke into the sky.(Photo By: Joe Marino/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Building at 121 Second Avenue in East Village, near Seventh Street collapsed after it was rocked by a blast and a fierce fire that sent black smoke into the sky.(Photo By: Joe Marino/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

In a city as dense as New York City, maintaining public safety is a critical issue, since any accident can affect a disproportionately large number of people in a very short period of time. Since 2014, the FDNY and New York City government have asked New Yorkers to be more conscientious of public safety issues and to report any type of suspicious signs including gas leaks and smoke.

This is where I think IoT innovation could make a significant impact. In my current job, I spend a lot of time reading up on the applications of Big Data, innovation around data collection, and the applications of large sets of performance data to monitor everyday processes. Up until now, IoT innovation has been primarily focused on consumer products , particularly consumer products for higher income millennials, looking to synchronize all parts of their real and digital lives (see IOTList for just a sample of these products). There is an endless stream of talent going into top technology companies and enough market movement (Intel just formally completed a deal to buy IoT company, Altera, for a whopping $16.7 billion) to warrant a discussion on the role of IoT in not just personal, but public well-being as well.

As IoT technology gets more advanced and in some cases, less expensive, I hope to see it more broadly applied to the public sphere. In the case of the crane and gas leak accidents, an IoT device that tracks tensile strength or gas pressure could be retrofitted into existing appliances and used to monitor key operational metrics. With the data gathered from this device, analysts could build monitoring tools that effectively predict whether a given machine, project, street, or pipe is at risk for accident. I know that this type of tracking already happens on a high level with sensors in the private sphere (oil rigs, hospitals, etc..). However, the latest issues in NYC beg the question of whether or not, in an age where technology has transformed the way people and businesses operate, we can apply our own innovative spirits to producing devices that promote greater safety for all citizens?

I mocked up an example process for how such a device could help prevent or at least, greatly reduce public safety hazards. All of these icons were provided by the very talented graph designers from The Noun Project.

iot graph

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