Smart Cities Research Highlights

Boston University researchers are developing concepts, systems, and applications designed to make city life more efficient, cleaner, safer, and less costly than ever before. Collaborating with experts in academia, government, and industry, our faculty and students are advancing Smart Cities systems and technologies as well as exploring economic, environmental, and public policy implications.

A Cyber-Physical Infrastructure for the “Smart City”

To enable the capabilities of a “smart city”—well-managed and safe processes such as traffic control, parking, and innovative urban activities such as recharging electric vehicles—this work studies key components needed to establish a cyber-physical infrastructure. It addresses fundamental problems that involve data collection, dynamic resource allocation, real-time decision making, safety, and security, with emphasis on a balanced understanding of both physical and “cyber” components. One example, a project focused on reducing city congestion and its externalities, is the Smart Parking test bed, a system that can determine and reserve the best parking space for a driver.

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Developing a Robust and Responsive Sensor Network

Creating the information infrastructure for a smart city, in part, entails a network of sensors whose data about critical city resources can be relayed and used by city management. To help overcome challenges of limited sensor battery life and various transmission obstacles, BU researchers are developing algorithms and simulations to optimize the deployment and implementation of these networks.

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High-Performance Networking Using Visible Light

Requiring far less energy than current light bulbs, a new generation of solid-state LED “smart lights” can illuminate a defined space and facilitate high-speed, optical wireless communications without WiFi. As a commercial and residential lighting source, LEDs are unique in their ability to turn on and off so quickly the eye cannot notice and therein lies their ability to transmit data at a larger bandwidth and with higher security than radio-based WiFi. This work is a part of Boston University’s research in smart lighting.

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Green Computing

BU researchers are focused on environmentally sustainable computing, particularly the study and practice of designing, manufacturing, and using computing resources—within a wide range, from small embedded computing devices to large-scale clusters, data centers, and cloud computing—efficiently and effectively with substantially lower energy costs than today and with minimal impact on the environment.

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Big Data

Working across BU are faculty focused on methods and tools for data-intensive computing and large-scale data management and analysis as applied to the Smart City and other application areas. This includes Data Mining and Machine Learning; Database Management Systems; Data Indexing and Search; Data Fusion, Compression, and Summarization; Statistical Data Analysis and Characterization; and Spatial and Spatio-temporal Data Analysis.

Advanced Sustainable Buildings and the Smart Grid

This research is developing a framework for the design of next generation buildings with the goal toward greater resiliency, lower costs, and increased environmental sustainability. These advanced sustainable buildings consume and produce energy via a smart micro-grid that integrates smart appliances, distributed storage, energy generation, and other grid-friendly devices, such as hybrid vehicles. Other related research is focused on reducing costs of the transmission network.

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Enhancing Energy Efficiency for Urban Housing

This research investigates the effect of split incentives on energy efficiency and the potential for behavioral nudges to increase energy efficiency at little or no cost. Working with operators and residents of low-income housing, the research will also study the relationship between energy efficiency measures and capital investments in energy efficiency technology.

Optimizing Building Energy Efficiency

HVAC accounts for 50 to 70% of total building energy and these energy costs scale strongly with the airflow of the HVAC system. Researchers are developing a software tool that can re-optimize an existing HVAC system without the need for new equipment nor expensive audits. It is essentially a software solution that can achieve large energy reductions at a low cost.

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Lost and Unaccounted Natural Gas

This research investigates the extensive natural gas leaks in Greater Boston which contribute to greenhouse warming. These leaks have been implicated in the damage and mortality of the urban and suburban forest canopy. Exploring the human and natural ecology of rural, suburban, and urban communities, this study examines the economic and environmental impact of these gas leaks.

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Metabolism of Boston

Carbon is a principal currency connecting human and natural systems. This research measures and models interactions of humans, plants, animals, physical processes, urban infrastructure, and marine and terrestrial ecosystems, focusing on one important component: carbon flows associated with biological and anthropogenic activity.

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Algorithmic Approaches to Personalized Health Care

Driven by the need for more preventive medical care, this research team is developing algorithms that can systematically process all patient data from electronic medical records and personalized health records. These algorithms will be designed to classify patients based on the risk of developing an acute condition and establish preventive medical interventions to avoid hospitalization and more serious health consequences.

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Enhancing Sleep Quality with the Blue-Spectrum Light

Studies of human circadian rhythm imply that the blue spectrum of visible light is responsible for cortisol/melatonin cycles. Augmenting or diminishing the presence of this blue spectrum can therefore affect sleep quality. Managing this blue light of an LED solid-state luminare is a part of Boston University’s research in smart lighting.

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Countering Cyber Attacks

By developing new ways to detect intrusions into private networks, Boston University researchers are hoping to improve upon current computer data protection. The team aims to develop anomaly detection that will monitor network traffic and better detect attacks, a key first step to more effective countermeasures.

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Securing the Open Softphone

Part of an interdisciplinary team, BU researchers are addressing the hardware, software, and networking challenges in making “softphones” more secure. For example, they are leveraging unique features where a softphone’s sensors could be programmed to confirm its user’s biometric signature before granting access to the device, or detecting the physical proximity of an unknown caller before accepting the connection.

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Video Monitoring and Action Recognition

BU researchers have devised a technique to process video data and pinpoint unusual events in cluttered urban environments that is faster and more reliable than conventional approaches. In a related effort, researchers are also working to improve the accuracy of action recognition—such as walking, jumping, or waving—from camera-recorded digital video signals and is a framework that consistently exceeds the performance of state-of-the-art methods.

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