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The Era of Edgeless Computing - Part 8

Welcome to the eighth of a series of articles to introduce some of the most cutting edge thinking about new computing and network architectures, bringing new forms of machine intelligence to where both digital and biological events occur.


Gut feeling

By Peter van Manen, EVP Research & Development of Living PlanIT

“We mostly don’t get sick. Most often, bacteria are keeping us well” – Bonnie Bassler

We think with our brain and our gut. Cities would be smart to do the same. Bacteria in the gut sense and act upon everything that we swallow, springing into action whenever danger is detected. Cities are full of bacteria, chattering away amongst themselves. If only they could tell us when things are changing and threatening harm. Well, maybe they can. Biosensors are devices that detect the presence of particular microbes in the water and air. And as the concentration of the target microorganism increases, the biosensor can emit different types of biochemical and physical signals. Hence, unusual or unsafe levels are detected.

Water quality is an obvious target. International agencies, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are concerned with higher frequency monitoring because of the growing fear of hazardous disruption of water supplies. Contaminants such as heavy metals, remnants of organic waste and other bacterial agents can cause widespread damage. These can reside in reservoirs, pipes and local water tanks, ready to harm unsuspecting victims.

Commonly used existing technologies monitor daily water quality at the supplier end, but less frequently at the consumer end since it is difficult at present to assess all points of access using traditional methods. The growing local and global risk of water supply disruption can be mitigated by approaches including a more frequent number of measurements than are currently taken.

Imagine a world in which water quality is monitored all the way throughout the network, from the sources to the sinks. Areas of contamination would be quickly found and isolated, allowing prompt action to be taken to minimize disruption and harm. In order to achieve this state we need the following building blocks:

We are developing multiple-use biosensors for widespread deployment. The biosensors are being engineered to monitor the concentration of a number of different pathogens. In this way, they can be deployed to give an early detection of things such as bacteria outbreaks in buildings, heavy metal contamination in waterways and coliform concentrations in the water supply. The PlanIT Urban Operating System™ (UOS) collects and processes the data: the platform supports analytics and business rules needed to make sense of the biological and associated data. And because we operate in real-time, we have the chance to intervene as soon as trouble emerges.

Ultimately, as biosensing becomes widespread, the community of bacteria and other microbes in and around the city can be mapped, in much the same way as traffic can be monitored in the streets. Identifying waste, targeting maintenance and anticipating and localizing pandemics, all become easier when it is possible to see what is happening throughout the city. And combining this with other data exposed by the UOS, such as the movement of people, traffic, weather, energy and water, provides a rich picture of the health and wellbeing of the city.

But it is not just sensing. The bacteria in our gut detect danger, but they also help digest the food that we eat. Likewise, microbes and enzymes can be used to help with various processes in the city. Converting waste into energy is a good example. Anaerobic digestion is a process that turns organic waste into methane, which can drive generators to produce electricity. It is quite a long process, taking a few weeks for a piece of rubbish to become energy. Adding the right bacteria, so-called “bioactuators”, can make the process much faster. This reduces the size of the installation, because the material being processed decomposes much faster, making it more attractive from both economic and space utilization perspectives. It also opens the way for degrading common inorganic waste, by exposing materials to specific microbes. Bioactuation can also play an important part in removing the contaminants in water, soil and air, important for water treatment, agriculture and air quality. This can be done at scale when monitored and controlled by the UOS, and supported with appropriate feedback from biosensors and other sensing in the city and surrounding areas.

Edgeless Computing takes sensing, processing and actuation beyond the physical and digital, reaching into the biological world. Putting bacteria and other microbes to work, as sensors and actuators, adds an important new dimension to smart city and IoT thinking. Exploiting local UOS processing and data fusion capabilities within the context of the city and its surrounding areas creates a platform for data collection, energy production, waste and water recovery and treatment, environmental monitoring, utilities and building planning and future applications in healthcare and medicine.

It will help make our cities better and safer places.

See more of this series of articles here...
Part 1 – Turtles all the way down
Part 2 – Living in real-time
Part 3 – Back to the future
Part 4 – Elephant in the room
Part 5 – Needle in a haystack
Part 6 – Tale of two cities
Part 7 – Need to know
Part 8 – Gut feeling
Part 9 – Welcoming strangers
Download the full series as a PDF


About Living PlanIT

Living PlanIT is a technology company that created the world’s first Urban Operating System (UOS) which, in combination with the products it supports, unlocks the full potential of data to make cities better, safer and more vibrant places to live.

Living PlanIT has built an extensive partner network around the concept of a shared, unified approach to smart urban technology architecture in which machine intelligence moves ever closer to originating sources of data and control. We call this architecture PlanIT Edgeless Computing™ and it is implemented throughout the PlanIT Urban Operating System™, providing a framework for resilient and secure computer and systems architecture for digital and biological sensing, control, analytics, machine learning, applications and visualization techniques.

Living PlanIT asserts its rights to the following Trademarks: Living PlanIT™, PlanIT Edgeless Computing™, Edgeless Computing™, PlanIT Urban Operating System™, PlanIT UOS™, PlanIT OS™, PlanIT Crumbs™, PlanIT PlaceApps™, PlanIT Valley™, PlanIT Assurance™, PlanIT Labs™, PlanIT Retail™, PlanIT Life™. Any reference to these names in this content shall be considered as an assertion of these Trademarks.

www.living-planit.com or follow us on Twitter @Living_PlanIT