RMIT research using sensor technology to trial ‘smart city’ management

A view of Rye Beach on Victoria's Mornington Peninsular. Image credit: rmit.edu.au.

RMIT researchers are installing sensors throughout Rye on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular  to monitor traffic, parking, crowd numbers and even toilet usage to better manage holiday crowds.

The collaboration between RMIT, Mornington Peninsula Shire and other partners is to use the sensor technology to explore how future cities might operate.

RMIT University’s Associate Professor Flora Salim, the project’s lead researcher, said traffic sensors would feed into smart signs displaying real-time availability of parking, while also guiding traffic to the least congested route.

“We’re also putting sensors on BBQs and in bins to let council workers know when they need attention, and air quality sensors at toilet blocks,” Salim said.

“Even the historic Rye Pier will have air and water quality sensors.”

The initial trial is monitoring more than 650 parking spaces, 20 bins, five toilet blocks, four BBQ facilities as well as 1 km of the main shopping street and 9 Ha of foreshore area. The sensors are currently being installed and trialled over this summer and the next, with the project to continue rolling out over subsequent years.

But Salim said smart street signs and facility monitoring was only the beginning.

“Eventually we’ll be using artificial intelligence for predictive modelling of all this data for towns all along the coast, trained on historic data but also informed by weather and events information,” she said.

“Local government will have dashboards with all this real-time information as well as forecasts for infrastructure development, while visitors can use an app to plan their ideal trip to the beach with the best route, parking and beach facilities.”

Mornington Peninsula Shire mayor, councillor David Gill, said the project was driven by high tourism demand on the Peninsula, particularly during the summer and holiday season.

“Rye township has been inundated with visitors, increasing pressures on parking, traffic, and amenities,” Gill said. “This project will allow the shire to demonstrate the use of smart technologies to improve liveability of busy towns, for example finding a park.”

Following the tests, the system will be replicated and scaled up for other beachside towns along the Mornington Peninsula with high demand pressures.

Salim said that the next 10 years would see this kind of data-driven technologies used more and more to better organise cities.

“Truly smart cities need to be able to aid both the citizens as well as local governments in making intelligence-informed decisions or even automating and delegating some of these planning decisions,” Salim said.

“For planning purposes, operational managers will be able anticipate seasonal, regular and irregular mobility and usage patterns by residents and visitors, who in turn can truly enjoy living in and visiting the shire without the stresses or traffic, finding a car park, knowing which beach is least crowded or which BBQs will be available along their route.”