March 8, 2009

We Need A Grand Vision—Let It Be Smart!

We can build systems that are stand-alone and require lots of hands-on monitoring, care, and feeding or we can create systems that are smart—they are self-monitoring providing on-going feedback, and often self-healing and they help ensure higher levels of productivity and up-time.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 17 February 2009, smart technology is about making systems that are “intelligent and improve productivity in the long run…they [makes use of] the latest advances in sensors, wireless communications and computing power, all tied together by the Internet.”

As we pour hundreds of billions of dollars of recovery funds into fixing our aging national infrastructure for roads, bridges, and the energy grid—let’s NOT just fix the potholes and reinforce the concrete girders and have more of the same. RATHER, let’s use the opportunity to leap forward and build a “smarter,” more cost–effective, and modernized infrastructure that takes us, as nation, to the next playing-level in the global competitive marketplace.”

- Smart transportation—the “best way to fight congestion is intelligent transportation systems, such as roadside sensors to measure traffic and synchronize traffic lights to control the flow of vehicles…real time information about road conditions, traffic jams and other events.” Next up is predictive technology to tell where jams happen before they actually occur and “roadways that control vehicles and make ‘driving’ unnecessary.”

- Smart grid—this would provide for “advanced electronic meters that send a steady stream of information back to the utility” to determine power outages or damage and reroute power around trouble areas. It also provides for consumer portals that show energy consumption of major appliances, calculate energy bills under different usage scenarios and allow consumers to moderate usage patterns. Additionally, a smart grid would be able to load balance energy from different sources to compensate for peaks and valleys in usage of alternative energy sources like solar and wind.

- Smart bridges—this will provide “continuous electronic monitoring of bridges structures using a network of sensors at critical points.” And there are 600,000 bridges in the U.S. As with other smart technologies, it can help predict problems before they occur or are “apparent to a human inspector…this can make the difference between a major disaster, a costly retrofit or a minor retrofit.”

Smart technology can be applied to just about everything we do. IBM for example, talks about Smart Planet and applying sensors to our networks to monitor computer and electronic systems across the spectrum of human activity.

Building this next level of intelligence into our systems is good for human safety, a green environment, productivity, and cost-efficiency.

In the absence of recovery spending on a grand vision such as a cure for cancer or colonization of Mars, at the VERY least, when it comes to our national infrastructure, let’s spend with a vision of creating something better—“Smarter”--for tomorrow than what we have today.

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