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A sensor-driven life: IT companies wire up cities of the future

In a hospital somewhere, a patient falls out of bed. A loud alarm goes off, and nurses rush in. Then three blood pressure monitors and a crash cart go missing from the ER. Operations managers quickly locate them in other parts of the hospital via a GPS-like function loaded into the software on their computers.

The key to all this is sensors. The aforementioned hospital isn’t really a hospital, but a demonstration lab at IBM’s campus in Austin, Tex., (pictured below). But the software and technology are real and are being deployed in hospitals today, and not just by IBM.

Cisco recently announced a partnership with Control4. Together, the two companies want to make technology that will create connected cities that can allow for remote schooling and doctor consultations, as well as automated home entertainment, lighting and security. Other companies are piling into the smart home/connected city space. Automation and home energy management is an area getting hot this year, with players like Schneider Electric, Vivent, Intel, Tendril and LG jumping into the game.

Sensors are playing an increasing role in not only smart grid-enabled rollouts, but smart homes, smart cities and smart hospitals. Players like Cisco, IBM and Microsoft are launching IT frameworks for cities that can help manage water, electricity, waste and traffic — with energy efficiency in mind. They are used across the spectrum in energy efficiency offerings that are poised to gain momentum in 2011.

For example, several venture-backed startups offer lighting systems that promise to reduce electricity costs. Redwood Systems and SynapSense use sensors to find energy inefficiencies in energy-hogging data centers. And sensors play a role in the smart grid, too. Smart meter company Elster recently paired its software platform with ABB’s sensor technology to monitor voltage so utilities can more efficiently monitor and operate power distribution.

The idea of ever-more intelligent infrastructure, whether for energy efficiency or operational gains, goes beyond sensors, of course. Sensors provide data, but that data must be processed by software and analytics in order to yield useful recommendations. Storing information in a way that makes it easily and quickly accessible is important, too. For example, in the hospital scenario, a doctor assessing a new patient could come in and quickly pull up the patient’s treatment records on a screen (pictured, above) and see his medical allergies and treatment history. Besides creating efficiencies within hospitals, digitized records would be especially useful in the case of, say, a patient with Alzheimer’s or someone who’s unable to recall and explain key diagnostic and treatment information.

Clearly major companies and startups alike see connected homes and cities as the next big thing. What do you think? Would you want to live in smart home and connected city, or do you like things just the way they are?

[Top image via Flickr/Tom Purves]