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AT&T, Intel, IBM target safer Smart Cities with LTE sensors

LTE-ready sensors will monitor cracks and tilts, sending automatically-generated alerts as necessary.

By Sabrina Dougall

Technology must make our lives safer, our communications faster, our cities better places to live in. Those are the views of the world’s largest telecommunications company AT&T, which this week bolstered its smart cities vision with a remote LTE-based monitoring system for rails and roads.

As part of its ongoing Smart Cities initiative, AT&T this week launched its digital infrastructure solution, which will attach LTE-enabled sensors to monitor cracks and tilts, sending alert triggers automatically when significant events are detected.

AT&T joined forces with Cisco, Deloitte, Ericsson, GE, IBM, Intel, and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. to support its network systems, after launching its Smart Cities project in 2015. Since then, the US-based conglomerate established spotlight cities in Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta, the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Sand extraction compromised the stability of Hintze Ribeiro bridge in Portugal, leading to its total collapse in 2001 when a bus drove over it during a storm. Cars plummeted into the fast-flowing river and 59 people lost their lives in the disaster. The concrete and steel structure was over one hundred years old and yet nothing was done to prevent the tragedy occurring.


The Hintze Ribeiro Bridge in Portugal collapsed in 2001, killing 59 people after sand extraction depleted its strength over decades.

Today’s bridges are still monitored for safeness using intermittent visual inspections by human experts. With rampant urbanisation characterising the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, almost half of bridges in the US are now more than 50 years old. Hard-to-access structures throw up difficulties for regular safety checks, and an overload of data can all-too-often leave governing bodies overwhelmed with unstructured information. Urban citizens are left waiting for the next Grenfell tower scenario.

“Safety is a top concern of citizens and cities alike. This concern extends beyond the realm of crime and natural disasters. It also includes the safety of our infrastructure,” said Mike Zeto, general manager of AT&T Smart Cities. “We’re pleased to test this solution, which will allow for smart infrastructure analysis and monitoring.

Monitoring solutions such as those from AT&T should vastly improve safety and planning in urban developments of the future. Governments and organisations will be able to remotely monitor the physical conditions of structures, with computers alerting human controllers to anomalies presenting potential risk to life. In the long-term, hundreds if not thousands or millions of lives could be saved from building collapse tragedies. In addition, the need for fewer human inspections could lower operational costs.

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In February last year, the telecommunications giant announced it would use sensors made by GE offshoot Current to connect cities across the US and Mexico. GE’s Predix-powered IoT platform will utilize LED lights to monitor traffic flow, weather and air quality, as well as optimise parking and assist crime detection by recording gun shots.

“Intelligent lighting plays a huge role in a smart city,” said Chris Penrose, President of Internet of Things Solutions, AT&T. “Our collaboration with Current will enable us to use a city’s existing lighting infrastructure to more securely connect sensor-enabled networks. This will put them on the path to becoming a smarter, more sustainable city.”

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