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The IOT in Local Government in Australia

Stuart Barwick

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Until I saw this week’s webinar, I was convinced that LG can benefit significantly from implementation of IOT but could not see direct savings arising. The benefits I saw would flow indirectly from better-informed decisions which have the potential to reduce both capital and operation costs.

But I took up the challenges which Jon suggested in his presentation – e.g. how would I make 10 LG staff look like they were 20, or how would I make 2 road graders look like 4? What would a Thing look like which not only collected data but made decisions, took initiatives, and waged the obligatory paper war which would inevitably arise? And I thought of all the Things which perhaps might be fully networked so they formed a Thing which could run all aspects of a LG area (shire, municipality…) with just about no set-up effort and minimal on-going inputs from expert humans other than the IT crew which makes sure that the whole Thing keeps operating as intended.

Suddenly I thought that I had a concept which I COULD sell to management and elected groups. Something which could have a net impact on the financial Bottom Line while improving service delivery to ratepayers and reversing the observable decline in Natural Values. Not to get too carried away with flights of fantasy though – the sales pitch will still need the support of touted low-cost IOT components and operation.

So just for one example I developed the specs for a Thing which I called the ABM. This Thing does all of the tasks which a competent Bridge Engineer standing 24/7 on a bridge site could do, and then some. There are 152 bridges in this Municipality and 29 municipalities in the State of Tasmania so there is plenty of scope for deployment of a Thing which could have saved me from doing something which I did this week – travel to 3 remote bridge sites to work out when and how they should be replaced. The ABM need not be more complicated or expensive than a smart-phone and I know that it is already within the capability of Manufacturer A to design and assemble a Bridge Module which can:

be as robust as a weedswiper, or better – probably need aircraft-style triple-sensors

be independent and self-powered

be resistant to vandals and other idiots

be plug'n'play at any site with little or no human intervention in on-site setup.

incorporate a range of sensors which would record all valuable information about the bridge and its surrounds - traffic counts and wheel loads, structural responses to measured loads, available freeboard, river water velocity, temperature, humidity, geospatial position (x,y,z), time, alignment, integrity, air quality, water quality, wind speed & direction, vehicle ID when vehicles are tagged (RFID say)

generate alarms around nominated thresholds, including self-diagnosed faults.

generate and store various condition reports in real time from collected data, including short and long-term trends.

upload those reports via narrow-band links (when active) via API protocols to diverse recipients including all other modules within the LG Thing as well as to external auditors, partners or beneficiaries.

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Hi Stuart

Firstly, well done with your thought experiment on the ABM; it’s just that sort of ‘what if’ questioning that gets things started.

I’ve spent forty years building many thousands of measurement systems for the bush, and in that time, measured just about all of the parameters you mentioned except for vehicle tags and wheel loads. Sure, we used data loggers and cellular telemetry to remote servers, but the concept is the same.

Now the hard work begins; who would pay for this, who would deploy it and maintain it, what is the value of the data and most importantly, what price tag per bridge would allow a viable business to arise providing ABMs across Tasmania?

Doing a back-of-the envelope calculation, the sensors alone on a single bridge would cost many thousands of dollars before we fill in the back end for measurement, local storage, telemetry and web-access, solar power and batteries, enclosures, aerials and all the other accoutrements of a standard environmental measurement system.

So that’s current technology.

What is it about the IoT that would make this ABM a viable proposition?

I’d be looking at some sort of image-processing technology and bringing a whole bunch of imaginative devices to the table to drive the sensor cost down.

This is an exciting application that sounds like grand fun to a measurement engineer such as myself - but only if someone foots a significant development bill up-front.

That’s the bit where the hard grind starts – getting funding, sustaining development and interest, overcoming hurdles, generating sales, employing staff, making the data flow, fixing all the things Murphy kicks over...

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Hi Stuart,

I very much enjoyed reading your post. It was great to feel your enthusiasm.

A good starting point for cost-benfit is with the saving of labour costs (and its morally/ethically nice to think that roles could be upskilled to where humans can be adding value that tech can't easily add, eg pattern matching, strategic decision making etc - tech is great & more reliable than us when it comes for laborious/repetitive work).

So, if you can tally staff infrastructure costs (in as much detail as you can get) from people/cars/petrol/insurance/accommodation/etc etc, plus rationalise the cost of tooling for manual measurements (and its life cycle), then it may just flow in terms of a commercial model. 

Do be prepared to present options, and perhaps the lowest end option would have a migration path to add on extra capability. Ie, have a base option that gets a foot in the door, so to speak.

I would also suggest two perspectives, one being retro-fit to an existing plant install, and one being a "green fields" install. It may well be that in some instance that green fields will be cheaper, as the instrumentation may be easier to install during plant installation?

I'm not an expert in your application domain however and so what I mention here is generic with my perceptions of reality :-).

Cheers! Jon.

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