Silicon and the city: Irish IoT firm lights up smart San Diego

1 Dec 2017

The city of San Diego. Image: ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Wexford antenna provider Taoglas is engaged in the largest city-based deployment of IoT in the world so far.

In the coming months, around 3,200 smart sensors will be installed in street lights across San Diego in California, in a partnership between the city and General Electric.

The vision is to use the city’s streetlights as the anchors of a digital network that will cut energy use, monitor air quality and even highlight open parking spaces.

‘The sensors cannot hear conversations but they are designed to identify live gunshots’

The secret sauce in each sensor is two antennas designed and made by Taoglas, a firm born in Wexford.

Previously named the Irish high kings of IoT, Enniscorthy-based Taoglas last year revealed a $2m investment in an internet of things (IoT) centre in San Diego.

Taoglas is an under-the-hood global leader in IoT that most people at home in Ireland would never have heard of. However, it is blazing a trail when it comes to antennas for machine-to-machine (M2M) applications such as smart grids, home automation and medtech – the stuff that will spawn household names in the 21st century.

The Taoglas IoTx centre is the first of its kind in North America. It is a kind of walk-in facility for product creators at some of the biggest tech and automotive brands to comfortably design and create IoT and M2M products.

Taoglas was founded by Dermot O’Shea and Ronan Quinlan in 2004. Employing 330 people worldwide, the “modest” company actually makes an annual turnover of around €50m and has ploughed its profits back into the business. The San Diego expansion is just one of a number of expansions that include investments in Taiwan and Germany as well as plans to invest in a facility in France this year.

More power to smart cities

Silicon and the city: Irish IoT firm lights up streets of San Diego

San Diego street lamps will be powered by IoT to improve safety in the city, cut energy costs and even help residents find free parking spots. Image: Taoglas

According to a study by MarketsandMarkets (2016), the global smart cities market size is set to quadruple in the next five years. By 2022, it will be worth more than $1.2bn, reflecting a growth rate of 23.1pc per annum. The market has been segmented into four major sectors including transportation, utilities, buildings and smart citizen services, responding to the needs of connectivity, fast telecom provision, a rapid increase in population and hyper urbanisation.

The installation of 3,200 smart sensors in San Diego will be one of the largest city-based deployments of an IoT platform in the world, and each of the new lights features two Taoglas antennas.

The smart street lighting can tell when people are in the vicinity. When no one is around, the lights dim to save electricity. Another sensor on the street lights keeps track of the available parking spaces on public streets. An accompanying app called Parking View can be downloaded by residents to obtain the data.

The mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, said: “Not only will the trendsetting technology make San Diego a smarter city, but also a safer one.”

The new San Diego street lights will reduce energy by 60pc and save the city $2.5m in energy costs. Installation of the new lights has begun citywide and is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

“There is no personal identifiable information that comes from the sensors, it’s all what we call meta data; raw counts, raw speeds, raw directions of travel,” explained General Electric project manager Austin Ashe.

“This information can be used to adjust traffic lights, reduce congestion or show streets with heavy traffic, which may need changes to make it safer. The sensors cannot hear conversations but they are designed to identify live gunshots.”

Ashe revealed that a sophisticated communication service linked to the San Diego police department is likely to be rolled out in the future.

According to the UN, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030.

City managers are responding by developing intelligent cities that are connected in a meaningful and valuable way, providing data and information on every level.

Taoglas CMO Landon Garner said that San Diego is just the beginning.

“Our vision at Taoglas is to deploy IoT solutions and services to help our customers contribute to building a better human world towards better standards of living, such as increased environmental sustainability and economic stability.”

Updated, 3.13pm, 1 December 2017: This article was amended to update the number of worldwide employees at Taoglas as well as its annual turnover figures.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years