What if I told you there were machines that traveled up and down every street in America, every single day, collecting information and assets from every address in the country? I’m not talking about a Google Maps car. I’m not talking about drones or any crazy government conspiracy theories. I’m talking about everyday machines that you’ve seen hundreds of times but never noticed. I’m talking about garbage trucks.
Garbage Trucks are roaming data centers, or at least they have the potential to be. Vast amounts of civic data are right in front of their windshields. Abandoned properties, graffiti, potholes, broken streetlights, torn up curbs and host of other important municipal insights are being passed by every day. Imagine if we could capture that data and put it to use.
According to the United Nations, 60 percent of people will live in cities or urban cores around the world by 2030. One-third of those will live in a city with a half a million people or more. More people means more pressure on infrastructure, utilities and public works, but it also means more opportunity for cities to grow and thrive. As a result, governments around the world are beginning to embrace the smart city movement, integrating data and technology into their systems and processes to drive efficiency and respond to citizen demands. Turning garbage trucks into roaming data centers gives us the potential to revolutionize public works for generations to come.
How, you might ask? Well, as you may have noticed, a world of opportunity lies in the palm of our hands: smart phones. As we speak, there are garbage trucks in Atlanta, Santa Fe and Columbus driving the city streets collecting valuable data to inform sustainability policies, route optimization and service rates, among other things. Today, this information is being applied to improvements for municipal waste and recycling services, but tomorrow a whole host of information could be applied to an endless variety of city improvements. This first step of putting “tech-in-trucks” is only the beginning. Cameras, satellite GPS, new sensor and vibration-based technologies, along with RFID will all be working together to collect data. This data can power not only the brain of the waste industry, but also the brain of public works departments and future smart cities.
It all begins with the simple trash truck. A long-standing civic service, managed by both public and private entities across the nation and the world. It’s time to rethink it, enable it and use it for good.