Edge AI for City and Building Maintenance

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21 Aug, 2023

Edge AI for City and Building Maintenance

By bringing computing power closer to the data source and reducing latency, edge computing enables real-time monitoring and analysis of critical data, which is already revolutionizing various applications, including smart cities and buildings maintenance applications.

Edge for City and Building Maintenance

In the early days of cloud computing, many experts predicted a massive transfer of industrial data and operations to the cloud. This mindset has gradually changed as organizations and cloud service providers realized that it is better to use the cloud only when its scalability, capacity and quality of services are needed, while using services close to the field in other cases such as when real-time data processing is required.   Recent studies anticipate that most industrial data will be stored, collected and managed closer to the field data sources rather than within centralized cloud infrastructures. 

Therefore, edge computing is gaining significant traction when it comes to developing, deploying and operating applications in industrial environments, including applications for modern cities that are developed for smart buildings and other types of public infrastructure. Edge computing takes a decentralized approach to collecting, managing and analyzing data, which moves computing resources closer to the edge of the networking infrastructure and to the sources of data. 

This distributed computing model can allow for faster data processing, reduced latency, and improved reliability, while at the same time delivering security and data protection benefits. By bringing computing power closer to the data source and reducing latency, edge computing enables real-time monitoring and analysis of critical data, which is already revolutionizing various applications, including smart cities and buildings maintenance applications. Moreover, edge computing is increasingly combined with embedded machine learning paradigms, which enable the execution of advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications at a city’s or a building’s network edge. Read more about the current status of Edge AI in our comprehensive report.

Introducing Asset Maintenance in Smart Cities and Smart Buildings 

Modern smart cities deploy, operate, and manage a considerable number of physical assets, which enable the operation of their critical infrastructures such as energy management and water management infrastructures. This is also the case for modern buildings and real-estate facilities, which comprise and manage many different assets such as building automation systems, HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) units, smart meters, sensors and various other IoT (Internet of Things) devices. Therefore, both cities and facilities managers are putting an emphasis on the development and deployment of effective asset maintenance applications. The latter are important to ensuring the proper functioning and the longevity of critical infrastructure assets, while at the same time impacting the cost-effectiveness of critical operations. 

State-of-the-art asset maintenance applications optimize the performance and reliability of physical assets by leveraging sensors, IoT and data analytics technologies. As a prominent example, sensors enable the collection of data about the actual condition of the assets towards implementing condition-based monitoring and condition-based maintenance (CBM) approaches that optimize the Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE). Rather than implementing preventive maintenance approaches that replace or service assets at fixed timeslots in advance of their nominal End of Life (EoL), CBM moves service and replace times much closer to the assets’ actual EoL. 

Effective asset maintenance applications can be used to predict and anticipate asset failures towards developing optimal maintenance schedules. The latter help cities and facility managers to avoid costly emergency repairs and equipment failures. More generally, predictive maintenance approaches for physical assets can increase the overall reliability of the critical infrastructure, while optimizing the cost-effectiveness of the maintenance processes. Furthermore, optimal maintenance schedules are also used to improve the allocation of resources (e.g., maintenance engineers, field workers, maintenance tools) to various asset management processes.

Most importantly, maintaining assets in a good working condition is essential for the safety and satisfaction of residents and visitors in smart cities and smart buildings. Specifically, asset maintenance applications can help the cities to promptly identify and address potential safety hazards. This can greatly reduce the risk of accidents and improve the overall quality of life for city dwellers. Likewise, citizens value urban environments where buildings and critical infrastructures are properly maintained. 

Edge Benefits for City and Buildings’ Maintenance Applications 

Nowadays, many asset maintenance applications are cloud-based. These cloud applications collect, process and analyze large volumes of data about the physical assets in support of CBM and predictive maintenance applications. Nevertheless, this cloud-based approach to asset maintenance is gradually changing as edge analytics and edge ML enable value-added functionalities that are not possible without edge computing. In particular, edge analytics and edge ML offer the following benefits: 

  • Real-Time Analytics: Edge analytics functionalities enable the detection of asset malfunctions and other maintenance issues in real time. This is because data is analyzed very close to the asset, without the network latency needed for transferring data to the cloud. Real-time analytics enable cities and facilities managers to take immediate actions towards alleviating the consequences of an asset’s malfunction. 
  • Data, Network, and Energy Efficiency: Asset maintenance applications at the edge are more efficient in terms of the amount of data that they must process and manage. By processing data close to the data sources, they significantly reduce the volumes of data that are transferred to the cloud. In this way, they save on bandwidth. At the same time, they are more power efficient, due to the reduced amount of data transfers and I/O operations required.
  •  Increased Security and Data Protection: Edge analytics and edge machine learning applications are more secure than their cloud counterparts. They have a reduced attack surface given that data are mostly kept close to the field (i.e., locally), which minimizes the opportunities for data breaches and other types of adversarial attacks. Likewise, edge analytics applications increase data protections for use cases that produce and handle potentially sensitive data (e.g., assets’ operations data and occupancy data in smart buildings).

Overall, edge computing makes it possible to analyze complex datasets locally, which obviates the need for constant data transfer to a central cloud. This enables fast and efficient analysis, which allows for the detection of patterns, anomalies, and trends in real-time. Hence, the application of advanced analytics and Machine Learning (ML) models at the edge facilitates the real-time prediction of failures and maintenance needs, while at the same time boosting the production of optimized maintenance schedules.

Smart Cities Asset Maintenance at the Edge  

Edge machine learning provides limitless opportunities for innovative asset maintenance applications in smart cities. These opportunities span different areas of the smart city’s infrastructures, including lighting, energy, transport, and water management infrastructures.  Some of the most characteristic applications include:

  • Lighting Systems Maintenance: In the case of lighting systems, edge analytics and edge machine learning can be used to support real-time performance monitoring and fault detection. Thus, maintenance can be done in a timely fashion towards ensuring optimal visibility and safety in the city.
  • Real-Time Detection of Water Leaks and Intelligent Management of Water Infrastructures: Edge analytics facilitate the detection of water leaks in near real-time, which can greatly boost the effectiveness of water management applications. For instance, upon the detection of a water leak, cities can automatically turn off water pumps to prevent any more flooding. Likewise, in a water distribution system, edge analytics can be used to analyze pressure data, flow rates, and historical usage patterns to predict potential leaks or pipe failures. The proactive identification of such risks can help maintenance teams to prioritize repairs, optimize the allocation of resources, and reduce the risk of major disruptions of the water management infrastructure.
  • Energy Optimization and Sustainability: Edge ML functionalities are becoming instrumental in optimizing energy usage and promoting sustainability in smart cities. This is based on intelligent maintenance applications that analyze data from smart grids, energy consumption meters, and renewable energy sources towards spotting energy inefficiencies and implementing targeted energy-saving measures. For instance, ML algorithms can be deployed within edge devices to analyze real-time energy data in order to detect anomalies, optimize energy distribution, and provide recommendations for energy conservation. This helps cities to reduce their CO2 emissions, lower their energy costs, and overall to create a more sustainable urban environment.
  • Intelligent Maintenance of Transportation Infrastructure: Edge computing and edge analytics can give a great boost to the intelligence and the cost-efficiency of transportation infrastructure maintenance applications. As a prominent example, in road maintenance edge AI algorithms can analyze data from sensors embedded in the pavement to detect cracks, potholes, or signs of wear. This enables cities to identify these issues early on and to take prompt action to address them in order to prevent accidents or further damage to the infrastructure. Through edge analytics, It is also possible to improve the intelligence of transportation infrastructure maintenance applications. For instance, intelligent maintenance applications can analyze data from traffic cameras, weather sensors, and transportation systems to predict traffic congestion and weather-related risks accordingly. This can lead to improved traffic management, reduced commute times, and enhanced safety for citizens.

Intelligent traffic systems can improve city efficiency. 

Smart Buildings Asset Maintenance at the Edge  

Some of the above-listed edge functionalities for cities infrastructures maintenance are directly applicable to smart buildings as well. This is for example the case of the lighting maintenance and water leaks detection functionalities. Nevertheless, smart buildings have their own edge analytics and edge machine learning use cases that can save costs for facility managers, while improving the comfort and satisfaction of the tenants. Here are some prominent examples:

  • Intelligent Occupancy Monitoring: By using edge analytics atop data from occupancy sensors and temperature sensors, facility managers can extract insights about the occupancy patterns of their buildings. This eases the process of adapting HVAC operations towards increasing the cost-effectiveness of the building operations and maximizing the satisfaction of the tenants. This use case has gained popularity following the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and the advent of remote work at scale, which have significantly disrupted the conventional nine-to-five occupancy patterns in corporate buildings and related facilities. 
  • Increased Operational Reliability and Reduced Downtimes: Edge computing and edge analytics can be used to improve the monitoring and maintenance of essential smart building systems, such as HVAC, electrical, and security systems. In particular, the real-time analysis of data at the edge enables facility managers to quickly identify and address issues with the building’s assets. This leads to improved energy efficiency, increased operational reliability, and reduced downtimes. 
  • Increased Sustainability and Regulatory Compliance: Asset maintenance in smart buildings can leverage edge functionalities to optimize HVAC operations, reduce energy consumption and optimize the CO2 emissions of the building. This is a key to improving the overall environmental performance of the buildings, minimizing energy costs, and working towards compliance with applicable regulations such as the Energy Conservation Construction Code of the New York state. 

As cities continue to grow and evolve, the importance of effective maintenance strategies becomes paramount. Edge computing, edge analytics and edge machine learning offer exciting opportunities that revolutionize city maintenance practices by bringing advanced analytics and intelligent decision-making capabilities closer to the data source. 

From real-time monitoring and anomaly detection to predictive maintenance and traffic optimization, the applications of edge analytics and edge machine learning in city and building maintenance are diverse and far-reaching. Modern cities must therefore embrace this powerful combination of technologies to enhance the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of their critical infrastructures, but also to ensure a safer and more resilient urban environment for their citizens.

In the coming years, demand for edge functionalities is expected to continue to grow as cities and buildings become increasingly interconnected and data-driven. Edge functionalities are expected to proliferate due to the evolution of available networking infrastructures (e.g., the advent of 5G and 6G network) networks, the proliferation of IoT devices, and the wider availability of ML functionalities at the edge. The latter will enable more advanced and intelligent maintenance applications.

Overall, edge computing holds immense potential for transforming city and building maintenance practices. With a forward-thinking approach, cities and building owners can unlock the full benefits of edge computing in the maintenance of their critical assets.

More by John Soldatos

John Soldatos holds a PhD in Electrical & Computer Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens (2000) and is currently Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow, UK (2014-present). He was Associate Professor and Head of the Internet of Things (IoT) Group at the Athens In...