Connected Boulevard — It’s What Makes Nice, France a Smart City

Known as the capital of the French Riviera, the city of Nice, France, is many things. It’s beautiful, it’s cosmopolitan and it’s vibrant. But it’s also something else — it’s possibly the smartest city in the world.

Among spectacular panoramic views, the rich culture, and all the shopping and nightlife opportunities is an underlying connectivity. It’s actually an intelligent data-sharing infrastructure that is enhancing the city’s management capabilities and is making daily life more efficient, enjoyable and easier for the more than 300,000 residents that call Nice home and the more than 10 million tourists who visit each year. It’s what makes this city smart… really smart.Chart for Angelo's Blog Post

Nice has been gaining much attention lately thanks to a series of innovative projects aimed at preserving the surrounding environment and enhancing quality of life through creative use of technology. Connected Boulevard is a great example of this.

The city launched the Connected Boulevard — an open and extensible smart city platform — as a way to continue to attract visitors while maintaining a high quality of life for its citizens. Connected Boulevard is used to manage and optimize all aspects of city management, including parking and traffic, street lighting, waste disposal and environmental quality.

A number of companies played a key role in the launch of Connected Boulevard, including Industrial Internet Consortium members Cisco, which is providing its Wi-Fi network, and PrismTech, which is providing its intelligent data-sharing platform, Vortex (based on the Object Management Group’s Data Distribution Service standard) at the core of the Connected Boulevard environment for making relevant data ubiquitously available.

Architecture Maximizes Extensibility and Minimizes Maintenance Costs

Think Global, an alliance of innovative start-ups and large companies, designed the Connected Boulevard architecture with an eye toward maximizing extensibility and minimizing maintenance costs. In a smart city environment, the main costs typically come from system maintenance, rather than initial development and launch efforts. A big part of these maintenance costs come from the replacement of sensor batteries. To help reduce these operating costs and maximize battery life, the Connected Boulevard project team made an interesting and forward thinking move — one which was in direct contrast with some of the latest thinking by those in the smart device and edge computing community.

Connected Boulevard relies on “dumb” sensors. These sensors typically are simply measuring physical properties such as temperature and humidity, magnetic field intensity, and luminosity. Once collected, these measurements are sent to signal processing algorithms within a cloud, where the data is then “understood” and acted upon. In the Connected Boulevard, magnetic field variation is used to detect parked cars, temperature and humidity levels are used to determine when to activate sprinklers, luminosity and motion detection are used to control street lighting.

The sensors in the Connected Boulevard rely on low power protocols to communicate with aggregators that are installed throughout the road network. Powered by the power line, the aggregators use Vortex to convoy the data into an Amazon EC2 cloud. The data is than analyzed by a series of analytics functions based on the Esper CEP platform. Finally, relevant information, statistics and insight gained through the data analysis are made available wherever it is needed within this connected ecosystem.

The applications within Connected Boulevard use caching features to maintain in-memory, a window of data over which real-time analytics are performed. The results of these analytics can be shared with applications throughout the overall system, where decisions are then made, such as what actions should take place. For example, the Nice City Pass application checks for free parking places and can also be used to reserve them. If a car is occupying a parking space that the driver has not paid for, a notification is sent to the police to ensure that the violating driver is fined.

Significant Benefits

After the initial installation of Connected Boulevard a few years ago, traffic congestion was reduced by 30 percent, parking incomes increased by 35 percent and air pollution has been reduced by 25 percent. It’s also anticipated that savings on street lighting will be at least 20 percent, but possibly as high as 80 percent. These are real, tangible results… and are clear examples of a smart city at work.

The smartest city in the world

In my last post, I explained how the OMG’s Data Distribution Service standard provides the ideal data-sharing platform for Internet of Things and Industrial Internet applications. In this post, considering that it is time for summer vacations, I decided to take you on a voyage in the smartest city of the world: Nice, France.

Besides being placed on the heart of the beautiful Côte d’Azur (a.k.a the French Riviera) between Monaco and Cannes, Nice has recently gained media attention thanks to a series of innovative projects aimed at preserving the environment and improving the quality of life through creative use of technology. In particular, Connected Boulevard, the project I’ll describe in this post, targets and enhances city management capabilities.

To give you some context, Nice attracts approximately 10 million visitors a year and in 2013 it was named as one of the best European destinations. To continue to attract visitors and improve the living experience of its citizens, the city launched the Connected Boulevard project as a way to develop an open and extensible platform that could be used to manage and optimize all aspects of city management, such as parking and traffic, street lighting, waste disposal, and environmental quality. DDS (specifically PrismTech‘s Vortex platform) was used at the core of the Connected Boulevard platform for making relevant data ubiquitously available. But before telling you how DDS was used, let me explain the architecture of the system.

Connected Boulevard architecture

The Connected Boulevard architecture designed by the ThinkGlobal Team aims at maximizing extensibility and minimizing maintenance costs. As for any long-lived system, the main cost comes from the system maintenance as opposed to its initial development. In smart city applications, one of the main sources of maintenance costs is the replacement of batteries. Thus, to reduce the operating costs and maximize the battery lifespan, the Connected Boulevard project took a decision that was in contrast with the trend promoted by the many supporters of smart devices and edge computing. The sensors used throughout the Connected Boulevard project are quite “dumb.” In most cases, they simply measure physical properties such as temperature and humidity, magnetic field intensity, and luminosity. These measurements are then collected and elaborated by sophisticated algorithms within a cloud, where the data is then “understood” and acted upon. For instance, the variation of magnetic field is used to detect parked cars; temperature and humidity are used to decide when to activate sprinklers; luminosity, sometime used in conjunction with motion detection, is used to control street lighting.

As shown in the figure below, sensors use low power protocols to communicate with aggregators that are installed throughout the roads. The aggregators, powered by the power line, use DDS to share the collected data. Through DDS, collected data is made available wherever required. Recall that DDS is equipped with a dynamic discovery protocol that matches new interests dynamically and establishes appropriate communication paths. Consumers of this sensor data include applications running on an infrastructure that perform analytics.

These applications use DDS’s caching features to maintain in-memory, a window of data over which they perform real-time analytics. The result of analytics is shared through DDS with applications that have to decide what to do, as well as with other applications that are interested in receiving it – such as the mobile applications including the Nice City Pass, used to check free parking places as well as to reserve them. As an example, if a parking place is occupied by a car and that parking place is not paid for, a notification is sent to the traffic police to ensure that the violating car is fined. Finally, it is important to remark that all data is collected, owned, and managed by the city of Nice.

Measurable benefits

Nice’s Connected Boulevard has been operating for nearly two years and – besides being a very cool project from a technology perspective – it has had a measurable positive impact on the city. After its initial installation, traffic congestion was reduced by 30 percent, parking income improved by 35 percent, and air pollution reduced by 25 percent. In addition, the forecasted saving on street lighting is 20-80 percent, depending on the type of roads and their lighting constraints.

In conclusion, regardless of the hype and the fad that at times is glazed around the Internet of Things and Industrial Internet, the reality is that these systems are being built and are delivering measurable benefits. In addition, DDS is a standard that has proven its applicability and value on key Internet of Things and Industrial Internet applications, of which the Nice smart city infrastructure is one example.