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IBM wires trucks, water lines in smarter city bid

Chesapeake, Va., signs on with IBM "smarter city" campaign to improve efficiency by collecting data on buildings, trucks, and utility infrastructure.

Making a city "smarter" starts with networked hardware, says IBM. That is, fire trucks, waste water lines, and buildings.

The city of Chesapeake, Va., has contracted with IBM to modernize the city's public works and utilities infrastructure, touching everything from its water system to its fire department. The deal is part of IBM's "smarter city" campaign of wooing municipalities that are investing in their infrastructure.

Rather than simply rewire power lines or rebuild broken bridges, cities should invest in technologies to improve efficiency and safety, said Bill Sawyer, IBM's vice president of IBM Maximo Operations.

In practice, that typically means bringing physical assets--trucks, buildings, utility lines, and the like--under control of a consolidated software system, Sawyer explained. By putting a networked sensor onto a fire truck, for example, the maintenance department can get data on its condition and save money on its maintenance schedule.

Now under (software) management: heavy equipment for clearing debris after storms. IBM

Data is collected from various end points and consolidated in the Maximo asset management application, which IBM bought in 2006 and has integrated with its Tivoli IT management system.

"There's an abundance of stimulus money, not only in the U.S. but all over the world," Sawyer said. "Rather than just rebuilding that bridge [in Minnesota that collapsed in 2007], you can embed sensors in the bridge to improve the ability to do preventive maintenance."

In one part of the project, Chesapeake's public utilities plan to put sensors and water meters at different points of the distribution networks, including water treatment plants and at end customers. By tracking usage of water, the city hopes better conserve water and lower its spending.

In the next phase of the project, the city plans to equip a number of its assets, such as water lines, with GPS equipment. That will allow city departments get a consolidated visual view of where the city's resources.

Simply knowing where physical assets are located allows city departments to run more efficiently and do more sophisticated applications. So when a town's public works department dispatches somebody for street repair, it can decide to do maintenance on the water lines as well, Sawyer said.

For citizens, the modernized infrastructure will help ensure consistent services and reduce waste, he said.