The EAR-IT project in Santander has monitored traffic flow

Spanish city tests acoustic sensors in EU future internet project

The city of Santander in Spain has turned itself into an experimental research facility, SmartSantander, as part of an EU future internet concept. The city is the test bed for EAR-IT’s outdoor applications: traffic-flow monitoring at a junction near the city’s hospital and analysis of the traffic density on two city streets.

The EAR-IT project has taken intelligent acoustic technology developed in laboratories and modified and adapted it to real-life environments. The project has focused on outdoor and indoor applications: traffic flow monitoring and controlling the use of energy indoors based on the number of people in a room. Monitoring traffic density in cities and assisting energy saving devices in houses could enable the development of smart cities and buildings.

Project coordinator Professor Pedro Maló said, “The complex junction [in Santander] was the scene of quite a few traffic incidents. Traffic comes in a variety of directions and emergency vehicles are trying to get through. EAR-IT has set up sensors which ‘hear’ sirens and then trigger other sensors to track the vehicle. This data is then used to change traffic lights in the ambulance’s favour.”

The sensors thus help get sick people to hospital safely and quickly. Once the sensor is in place, the data it collects could be used for a wide range of applications. They could, for example, be configured to send a message to a smartphone app to alert users to a concert or street event happening nearby.

The project also tested the sensors’ ability to count cars on a road. To check the data collected was accurate, EAR-IT used two streets which had electromagnetic induction sensors under the tarmac.

“I was relieved and delighted when, after a year of work to adapt the technology to a city environment, we found the acoustic and pressure sensors were giving us the same message,” said Maló. While the street sensors can just count the cars, the acoustic sensors have a wide range of applications.

The confirmation that the sensors can identify the number of cars passing, even when they go by in large groups, means that not only can the equipment be used to check traffic density hot-spots, but they can also, for example, be used in conjunction with pollution detectors. This could prove a vital tool in the EU’s bid to improve air quality for its urban population.

EAR-IT has deployed 12 000 devices all over the city, taking advantage of the unique SmartSantander experimentation infrastructure. The devices run on batteries and most are installed in lamp posts to ensure energy sustainability. The small batteries recharge overnight as the electricity flows.

EAR-IT has also worked on the use of acoustic data in the home to save energy by assessing what is going on in a room and how many people are in it. “Windows can be made to open, curtains close and lights and heating turn on and off automatically”, Maló suggests.

One important application, in the light of Europe’s ageing population, would be the use of acoustic sensors to detect if someone is safe at home. For example, the sensors could transmit a distress message if an occupant falls, letting healthcare providers and family know whether they need to intervene.

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