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Intel Labs: Sustainable cities start with their citizens

Posting in Architecture

Sometimes building a sustainable city creates the need for a framework and set of technologies that don't exist today.

SAN FRANCISCO -- When it comes to building and promoting sustainable homes and cities, no matter how large the scale of the project, it always comes back to the needs of the individual, according to Tomm Aldridge, director of the Energy and Sustainability Lab within Intel Labs Europe.

That means addressing personal energy, trust and security on all devices (i.e. smartphones, home appliances, etc.) that surround a person as they go through their "energy day," Aldridge described on Thursday afternoon during a roundtable discussion about sustainable solutions coming out of Intel Labs.

"Your lifestyle can be tailored to be every effective for you as well as very sustainable if you can get those machines to cooperate," said Aldridge, explaining that the individual is the driving force that is demanding the services -- therefore central to Intel's research.

But Aldridge acknowledged that creates the need for a framework and set of technologies that don't exist today.

Enter "Ambient Intelligence and Sensing Architecture," an Intel Labs project and end-to-end system of sensors, computation, services and user interfaces that enables cloud-based M2M solutions for user services.

Within the Ambient Intelligence research suite, Intel Labs is developing energy and environmental wireless sensors, optimization algorithms, building and community energy management systems, and security architectures, among other projects.

Overall, this means developing an M2M architecture that creates a horizontal marketplace so that businesses thrive and users feel secure.

"We're trying to figure out how to do it at the minimum cost to the environment," Aldridge added.

Today, we have about 16 "megacities" around the world -- meaning cities over 10 million in population. By 2025, Intel Labs reps estimated that we'll have between 20 to 27 megacities. By 2050, there could be over 30.

As that doubles over that time frame, there's a need for making the city more sustainable with a better quality of life but lesser impact on the environment, argued Terrance J. O’Shea, Ph.D., O.E., a senior principal engineer at Intel Labs.

For example, O'Shea cited that there are a few dozen pollution sensors in New York City, usually located in public buildings. However, not all of these are online, nor are many of them at street level where more people are breathing.

To track more than just pollution, Intel Labs is testing an air quality sensor. Measuring about the size of a regular PC power adapter, it can be easily hidden anywhere from the home to airports for detecting levels of particular elements, such as oxygen and alcohol.

Another device being tested for cars is the BTAG, a compact device that looks like a garage door opener. Being tested in Brazil, the BTAG is based on an active RFID configuration, and it can keep track of and display stats such as when the tires were last rotated and vehicle mileage on a gas pump display.

Moving on to monitoring energy for sustainable homes, Intel Labs has already commenced conducting trials throughout the Western United States (and soon Europe) in which participants installed prototype energy sensors in their homes and got real-time energy statistics.

What's unique about Intel Labs's sensors -- in comparison to say, a smart meter from the local electric company -- is that Intel's prototype can measure power consumed by different devices throughout the household, and that information can then be transmitted and viewed on a smartphone.

"We start with the home, moving outward," said O'Shea, "It's really the impact of how much energy does the home use."

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Rachel King

Rachel King is a staff writer for ZDNet. Previously she worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in San Francisco.