The Internet of Things (IOT) is today much discussed. This is a new world of distributed sensors which give intelligence to devices/assets: thermostats, cars, water valves on and on. That word distributed is key. GIS is focused on distributed. In many ways IOT and GIS are complimentary technologies.

But, we are at an early stage of this natural joint evolution. Most of today’s solutions are complex and expensive. We took it upon ourselves to find an affordable way to bring IOT and GIS together.

IOT GIS Monitoring

Think about a water system. That is made up of assets: valves, pipes, regulators, pumps. A GIS is often the base for storing data about these assets: the what and, importantly, the where. Web maps are how we often visualize a water system.

Water System GIS Web Map

Imagine if each of these assets had an attached sensor. Maybe a valve with a water pressure sensor. Every few seconds this sensor provides a pressure read. Problems – too high water pressure, or maybe valve failure – are reported in real-time. That allows staff to respond to issues before they occur (preventative) or quickly afterwards. But how do we collect and monitor that real-time data?

IOT GIS Tracking

In winter, much of the northern US rely on snow plough’s. Heavy winter snows can grind cities to a halt. Snow plough crews work hard to clear roads and maintain passable networks. But how do city managers best coordinate their snow plough teams, and how do the public know, in real-time, what has been cleared so they can get safely to work? Sensors inside a snow plough can track and report the location and progress of each vehicle. But again how do we collect and track that real-time data?

Bringing IOT and GIS Together

Let’s look at the architecture of a real-time IOT-GIS system, and help answer these data collection and monitoring/tracking questions.

Architecture of an IOT Powered GIS solution

There are 3 parts to an IOT-GIS system:

  1. IOT – An asset has a sensor attached (or built-in). That sensor gathers data (temperature, pressure, GPS location etc) and a small on-board computer filters and manipulates the data (edge computing). That might be data cleaning or filtering. ‘Clean’ data is then communicated to a data stream integrator.
  2. Data Stream Integrator – The integrator consumes event data from multiple real-time data streams. Processes that data and passes it into a GIS, or other end point.
  3. Platform or End-Point– This might be a simple mapping platform or GIS. A web application maps the data, updating at regular intervals showing the current state of the asset. It might also be a dashboard which includes both the map and summary data.

Case Study

Let’s advance the above snow plough discussion. Below is a diagram of a solution we have built:

Snow Plough Tracking End-to-End Solution

Snow plough drivers install a low cost $6 app on their mobile phone. The app pushes out an MQTT data stream at regular intervals to our real-time data integrator. This acts like Esri’s Geoevent server. The integrator applies logic to the data. From here we can send the data to any endpoint. In the diagram above we push the data to a Feature Service and Operations Dashboard.

Snow Plough Tracking App

The animated gif above shows the application in action. We are recording average vehicle speed in the top left panel, and number of active vehicles in the bottom left panel. In the map, each vehicle is shown at its current position. Vehicles are differentiated by colour. The track followed by each vehicle is shown with arrows denoting direction.  Each vehicle’s position is updated every 10 seconds. The right panel shows % of route completed by each snow plough. This updates in real-time. In the top right hand drop-down, users can view data about all vehicles or a specific truck.

The application is being used by members of the public to map their best route to work based on roads cleared, and public utility departments to better plan and coordinate snow clearance.

Tracking and Monitoring

The IOT-GIS architecture shown above can be applied to both the tracking of moving assets (eg snow ploughs) and the monitoring of static assets (eg. water valves). We plan to roll out other focused IOT-GIS solutions moving forward.

Contact us for more information.

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