IBM has generated a lot of buzz lately for Watson, its game-show-playing supercomputer that recently bested a couple of skin jobs on “Jeopardy.”
Less high profile is the expansion of Big Blue’s computer and software systems designed to monitor and control municipal water, energy, and transportation systems. Developed under the umbrella of IBM’s Smarter Planet effort, such systems are designed to cut water and energy consumption and save cities money.
On Monday, IBM announced a series of projects showing that in the future, public works may be just as much about sensors and cloud computing as pipes and concrete.
In Washington, D.C., software analyzes the city’s water system — pipes, valves, drains, and the like — to predict when infrastructure (some of which dates to the Civil War) is likely to fail. It then prioritizes repairs and replacement of water mains, to take one example, before they break down. The system also automatically dispatches repair crews and monitors water meters, identifying defective ones that can result in a loss of revenue for the city.
Down the coast in Wilmington, N.C., IBM has deployed GIS software to map 1,500 miles of water lines and 143 pumping stations so the water system could be monitored in real time. When something goes wrong, the smart water system generates a work order to fix the problem.
"Having geographic intelligence allows us to not only have a real-time view of our entire operation to optimize our teams and improve the efficiency of our work, but also to drill into the significant details on history of that equipment, and the relationship to the overall community," said Nancy Gallinaro, the chief operating officer of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. "This is especially critical a time when we are faced with aging infrastructure and the challenges associated with a struggling economy."
Across the Atlantic in Switzerland, IBM is rolling out a sensor and computer system to let Swiss Federal Railways perform real-time monitoring of 1,864 miles of track, plus switches and railroad stations. Another IBM software service manages those smart electricity meters being installed nationwide in the United States while yet another tracks medical equipment in hospitals in real time.
Watson, meet the green Skynet.