Looking for a practical example of the internet of things actually being useful? The Sydney Harbour Bridge is here to answer your call.
Picture: Hai Linh Truong
During the AIIA Navigating The Internet Of Things conference, which Lifehacker is covering today, David Gambrill from NICTA discussed a project which is using sensors to monitor 800 of the joints on the iconic bridge, which has to handle 160,000 vehicles a day.
Those joints are designed to move, allowing the bridge to cope with both winds and the pressures of traffic. It can rise and fall 18cm, and expand and contract by 42cm. To make that process work, however, the joints have to be monitored and maintained. "If the two joints move in harmony and unison, that's OK," Gambrill said. "If they move in a different order, it's a problem."
The previous approach has been maintenance when a problem is identified, but being able to fix and replace joints that are about to break would be far more efficient and less costly. Gambrill said the current reactive system was 10 times more expensive.
To achieve that, NICTA plans to deploy 2400 sensors across the bridge — 1500 are already in place. These are designed purely to monitor the condition of the bridge. "Instead of the asset manager having to deploy his maintenance staff, he gets a dashboard for all monitored joints showing their status as green, amber or red."
On its own, that project would be a worthwhile investment. However, the real breakthrough is the ability to use machine learning to help identify patterns that suggest forthcoming joint problems and structural anomalies. It's that kind of analysis, rather than just collating data, that gives internet of things projects real potential.