Open APIs

Action Week: Open Hack winners clean up Vancouver

A lot of cities tout their records on environmental sustainability, but their evidence is largely anecdotal – they don’t have the data to prove it. The winners of the TM Forum Open Hack, held here at Action Week in Vancouver this week, are hoping to change that with an internet of things (IoT) platform to collect sensor data from waste bins.

Vancouver, British Columbia, is made up of many neighborhoods and districts that have condominiums and apartment buildings with resident and tenant associations. “We wanted to figure out: is there a way for us to get waste management data to see how efficiently we are recycling on a district level? Could we engage citizens in a pragmatic way?” says YVR SmartBin team member Nagib Tharani.

The YVR SmartBin platform uses intelligent asset tags and augments them with sensor data to calculate how much waste-bins are being used. When citizens see that a bin is overflowing and needs to be emptied, they can scan a QR code on the bin, which opens a browser and lets the citizen request garbage pick-up. Sensor data generates intelligent insights into waste management metrics, such as ratios of trash to compost to recycled material. Eventually, the data could be used to incentivize citizens to reduce waste.

“Vancouver has high-level data showing that they’re recycling, but it’s an aggregate figure – a lot of cities around the world have this problem,” Tharani says. “Most data now is in CSVs [comma-separated values], but if you really want to be a smart city you need to look at moving from CSV-based data to sensor data.”

Results in 24 hours

Teams at the Open Hack began scoping out their projects on Monday and presented their projects to TM Forum attendees on Wednesday. The winning team coded the SmartBin platform in just 24 hours. Teams had access to Sierra Wireless’ MangOH IoT platform, the IBM Bluemix cloud platform, TM Forum Open APIs and APIs from Telus. Sierra Wireless and Telus sponsored the event.

The YVR SmartBin team used the MangOH platform, the IBM Bluemix platform including the IBM Node-RED tool, TM Forum’s Inventory Management and Trouble Ticket APIs, and APIs from Telus for communications and geo-platform coordination. They also used the City of Vancouver’s open data.

“This gives the government for the first time ever, the ability to calculate these metrics and start populating a database with sensors,” Tharani says. “How much glass are we recycling? What’s our compost relative to trash ratio? These are the kinds of things you can start to calculate and put into a city database.”

He adds: “The MangOH wireless platform lets you see the utilization rates. Eventually you could use machine learning on that sensor data to optimize fleets. You could also give carbon credit offsets – the city could say, ‘Your residents’ association is more efficient than others so we’re going to offer you a 10% credit on your building maintenance fees’. This can incentivize citizens.”

Getting smart about air pollution

The runner-up in the hack, Vancouver Airwatch, developed an application to crowd-source accurate air quality measurements for seaports. The project was based on work by a group called Solent Airwatch –  Solent is a strait that separates the Isle of Wight from Southhampton on the mainland of England – which is trying to measure air quality and pollution at Port Solent.

“Solent is a large port with thousands of ships coming in and out that generate a huge amount of pollution,” says team member Craig Gallend. “Vancouver is a port with similar problems – these cities can’t measure pollution because commercial pollution measurement systems are very expensive. Southampton actually closed one of their [measurement sites]down because they couldn’t afford to keep it going.”

Let citizens do the work

The team’s idea was to put low-cost air quality sensors into the hands of citizens and let them collect the data. Then the team would use data science and neural network technology to improve the accuracy by comparing results from high-quality measurements.

During the hack, the team used low-cost Raspberry Pi sensors, which were registered with a core platform based on the open source project OpenNMS. The team used TM Forum’s Catalog and Inventory APIs to create a service catalog for the port to manage IoT devices.

“We are encouraging citizen scientists to build their own boxes to measure pollution,” Gallend sayus. “The idea is that it will be like gamification – citizens can go to the website to see the pollution level near them.”

TM Forum has been hosting hackathons for four years at events including Action Week and TM Forum Live! to encourage innovation around the Forum’s Open APIs. Hackers in the first hackathon in San Francisco in 2013 had access to just three TM Forum Open APIs.

“We’ve come a long way,” says Joann O’Brien, Vice President, APIs and Ecosystems, TM Forum. “Today, there are over 40 API specifications that are deployed in over 27 markets in countries around the world. There are over 600 companies downloading the APIs regularly, an active team of over 4,000 individuals and a community of 23,000 professionals.”



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About The Author

Managing Editor

Dawn Bushaus began her career in technology journalism in 1989 at Telephony magazine, which means she’s been writing about networking for a quarter century. (She wishes she didn’t have to admit that because it probably gives you a good idea of how old she really is.) In 1996, Dawn joined a team of journalists to start a McGraw-Hill publication called tele.com, and in 2000, she helped a team at Ziff-Davis launch The Net Economy, where she held senior writing and editing positions. Prior to joining TM Forum, she worked as a freelance analyst for Heavy Reading.

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