If Boston Were Smart

in Uncategorized
October 28th, 2013

By Leslie Friday
Imagining intelligent traffic lights, parking spaces, buildings, and appliances
Watch the video about Smart Parking.
Last year, the Daily Beast named Boston the country’s smartest metropolitan area. The website was referring to the people of Boston, of course, not the city itself. But what if the city itself were smart? What if technology, designed by the smart people who work in Boston, could help us save time and energy and spare us from daily frustrations? We talked to some BU researchers who are studying, designing, and building the technology for a more enlightened city.

Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE) suggests that appliances connected to a home photovoltaic unit, like a solar panel, could be programmed to detect passing clouds and choose to cycle at a later time. (Photo by Flickr contributor Savannah Corps

Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE) suggests that appliances connected to a home photovoltaic unit, like a solar panel, could be programmed to detect passing clouds and choose to cycle at a later time. (Photo by Flickr contributor Savannah Corps

Smarter grid
Because the cost of electricity fluctuates throughout the day, depending on demand, smart meters that are currently available tell homeowners exactly how much energy they use and at what cost, encouraging them to delay energy-intensive activities until a time of day when demand and costs are low. Supported by a $2 million National Science Foundation grant, Michael Caramanis, a College of Engineering professor of mechanical and systems engineering, John Baillieul, an ENG professor of mechanical engineering, and two MIT faculty members are collaborating on a study of how these and larger-scale measures could result in a smarter electricity grid. In the United States, we lose about 8 percent of energy because it travels long distances between points of generation to use. Caramanis thinks the loss could be greatly reduced if we got our energy from closer and cleaner sources. A smarter grid could help us do that.

Smarter security
Security officers could sort through billions of hours of video footage and spot unusual events, such as someone attempting to enter a building in the middle of the night, using specially designed cameras with embedded algorithms. Janusz Konrad and Venkatesh Saligrama, both ENG professors of electrical and computer engineering, have developed the technology, supported by more than $800,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies.

Smarter HVAC
BU engineers have designed software that, once uploaded to a building’s HVAC system, would measure airflow room by room and revise it to meet minimum standards, decreasing energy costs while keeping occupants happy. The invention earned Michael Gevelber, an ENG associate professor of mechanical engineering, Donald Wroblewski, an ENG adjunct research professor, along with ENG and School of Management students first prize and $20,000 in this year’s MIT Clean Energy Competition. The team plans to develop and market the software through its newly formed company, Aeolus Building Efficiency.

Smarter traffic lights
A smart traffic lighting system would mine GPS information from cars and smartphones and count the number of vehicles waiting at red lights. If there is no approaching traffic, it would switch lights from red to green. Christos Cassandras, an ENG professor of electrical and computer engineering and head of the Division of Systems Engineering, is testing this system on a model minicity in his lab.