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Networking Operating Systems Government Technology

An Operating System For Cities 216

Posted by Soulskill
from the can't-wait-for-those-citywide-blue-screens dept.
CProgrammer98 writes "BBC News reports that cities may soon get their own operating system. From the article: 'The Urban OS works just like a PC operating system but keeps buildings, traffic and services running smoothly. The software takes in data from sensors dotted around the city to keep an eye on what is happening. In the event of a fire, the Urban OS might manage traffic lights so fire trucks can reach the blaze swiftly. The sensors monitor everything from large scale events such as traffic flows across the entire city down to more local phenomena such as temperature sensors inside individual rooms. The OS completely bypasses humans to manage communication between sensors and devices such as traffic lights, air conditioning or water pumps that influence the quality of city life."
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An Operating System For Cities

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    • by xclr8r (658786)
      Whomever thought of this obviously did not watch the Battle Star Galactica series that came out last decade. I welcome our new Cylon overlords.. that is.. if I haven't been incinerated from the sky 1st.
      • by X0563511 (793323)

        No worries. We were going to wait to tell you, but we might as well do so now. You're a Cylon too!

      • by glwtta (532858)
        This isn't really relevant, but I'm kinda curious - why do you think that the subject in that sentence needs to be in the accusative?

        I see people do this sometimes and it's just baffling.
        • by jc42 (318812)

          Whomever thought of this obviously did not watch the Battle Star Galactica series that came out last decade.

          This isn't really relevant, but I'm kinda curious - why do you think that the subject in that sentence needs to be in the accusative?

          Well, it made sense to me, because xclr8r was clearly making an accusation. Wouldn't you expect the subject of an accusation to be in accusitive form?

    • by i_ate_god (899684)

      Thinkum Dinkum

    • Whatever, grandpa. Don't you play Halo? It's the Superintendent. ;)

    • Since we're really all just living in a simulation anyway [simulation-argument.com], my first thought was of our glorious Master Control Program [wikipedia.org].

      All hail the MCP, under pain of deresolution.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday September 30, 2011 @12:21PM (#37568448) Homepage

    City governments cant keep the basics running smoothly. How the hell are they going to maintain a giant sensor network like that?

    there are 4 streetlights in my neighborhood that never work right. if they cant get that working, they will never get a complex system working. City governments do not run like a business. Preventative maintenance is not an option.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My city has a great digital traffic infrastructure, but when it fails, it fails catastrophically. Drivers revert to "biggest car has the right of way" rules at intersections. Pedestrians are unable to cross streets. Seriously, if there ever is a SkyNet, it won't need to attack us. It just needs to stop functioning after a few years of flawless service. We'll take care of the rest ourselves.

      But my point was, even when cities can get these things up and running, they seem to be unable to afford the redun

      • by arth1 (260657) on Friday September 30, 2011 @12:58PM (#37569054) Homepage Journal

        I think disabling all traffic lights and turning off stop signs every Sunday would help a lot. People would have to re-learn the traffic rules they have forgotten, like yield to right and do not block intersection on pain of nightstick.

        No, I am NOT kidding.

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          I think disabling all traffic lights and turning off stop signs every Sunday would help a lot. People would have to re-learn the traffic rules they have forgotten, like yield to right and do not block intersection on pain of nightstick.

          No, I am NOT kidding.

          I don't think most people have forgotten the laws, they choose to ignore them. Common courtesy on the road is a near dead thing in some areas.

          I recently visited Seattle and was quite amazed how courteous most drivers were, compared to California maniacs.

          • No kidding, it all depends on where you are and what the situation is. I was in a mid sized city in WI when a storm knocked out power to the area, going through an intersection with three to four lanes coming from each direction and no stoplights was... well, it wasn't unstressful, but it did work. People knew what the rules were and followed them. I experienced the same situation with similar traffic levels in a much larger city less than a year later and it led to complete gridlock.

            • by arth1 (260657)

              I think that people in rural areas are less stressed in general, and handle this better. I could be wrong, but road rage seems to be a phenomenon linked to big cities or overly regulated traffic.

          • I don't think most people have forgotten the laws, they choose to ignore them. Common courtesy on the road is a near dead thing in some areas.

            I agree with the common courtesy point however regarding the forgetting of laws, I think you may be sadly surprised if you polled people around your area. Example: I live in a neighbourhood with grid streets and mostly uncontrolled intersections. Over the years it has not ceased to surprise me how many people have stupid ideas on what the laws are regarding uncontrolled intersections. I have had persons argue with me stating that if you are traveling East/West that you have the right of way. I have als

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            I recently visited Seattle and was quite amazed how courteous most drivers were, compared to California maniacs.

            I visited L.A. recently (Orange County actually), and was quite amazed at how rational and decent most drivers were, compared to the morons here in Phoenix, Arizona.

        • Many places already do this, turning lights to flashing yellow/red on weekends. But, it's usually smaller towns, and the yellow flashes on the main road of the intersection so that traffic doesn't stop at all.

          • by arth1 (260657)

            Yeah, but that's still regulated. What's needed is a reminder on how to drive when streets are unregulated, so the drivers are prepared for and won't make a total mess when there are power outages.

        • Some places in Europe do this. In fact they've removed some intersection lights entirely, turning them into "anarchy zones."

      • by Bengie (1121981)

        Every time lights go out in my city, everyone just treats them like stop signs.

        A few months back, the busiest intersection in town had all of its lights suddenly turn green while I was at it. No accidents during the time I was there. I was at the back of the line, so it was a few minutes.

        Effectively, it turned into a round-robin right-of-way. There were multiple lanes, so several cars were able to go at the same time, but no were near as many as when the lights worked properly. Some times cars would "burst"

      • The big shiny $30k SUVs always yield to my little Suzuki Samurai. Exposed steel bars have that effect. Sure, run into me, you'll have to give up this year's vacation plans, and I'll just have to stop at the hardware store on the way home.

        • by lgw (121541)

          The best thing for right-of-weigh is primer. People respect primer: nothing says "sure let's trade paint" as much as the signs that you do your own bodywork and can't even be bothered to finish.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      City governments cant keep the basics running smoothly. How the hell are they going to maintain a giant sensor network like that?

      there are 4 streetlights in my neighborhood that never work right. if they cant get that working, they will never get a complex system working. City governments do not run like a business. Preventative maintenance is not an option.

      City OS will be, like its present analog, infected with the the Politics Worm. Says it all, really.

    • Oh look! A City version of UAC!

      "We detected a street light out of synch. Do you want to synch it? Cancel or Allow?"

      • by nschubach (922175)

        Actually, there's a user sitting at a screen with UAC pop-ups:
        "Do you want to allow the following driver through this intersection? Yes | No"

    • I missed the "n't" and "can't keep" originally.

      Yeah, I live in an area where laying off the entire police force is seen as a creative way to save money, and the State and Local governments can't agree who owns what road. A sensor system would blow their minds.

    • by russotto (537200)

      City governments cant keep the basics running smoothly. How the hell are they going to maintain a giant sensor network like that?

      Who would let them? You sell the network to the government, install it, and from that point on it maintains itself. City officials who try to make "adjustments" have "accidents".

    • As someone who reprocesses sensor data from Caltrain's freeway traffic sensors, I have to agree with you. A third of those sensors do not work at all. And since they're only sensors, and are not visible to the general public, nor are they really a safety issue, I doubt that they'll get fixed anytime soon.

      Taking a top-down city planning approach may seem super attractive to city administrators. After all, it would make central city planning seemingly more powerful and more Sim City like, but such an approach

  • !OS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arth1 (260657) on Friday September 30, 2011 @12:22PM (#37568476) Homepage Journal

    That is not an OS in any established or even equivalent sense of the word.

    I also predict major driver issues.

    • by discord5 (798235)

      That is not an OS in any established or even equivalent sense of the word.

      Yeah, that's simcity 4 minus the disaster menu.

      I also predict major driver issues.

      For a moment I was thinking you were talking about road rage, that's how far this is away from an OS ;)

      • by xMrFishx (1956084)

        Yeah, that's simcity 4 minus the disaster menu.

        Well you could always add in a disaster menu if you wanted, to keep with the theme of things. I'd think the easy ones to implement would be: Financial Crisis, Power Plant Meltdown, Flash Flood and possibly Food Shortage. Then just use some random number generator to trigger them and bob's your uncle, SimCityRL.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by sgt scrub (869860)

      Don't waist your time. Your in a world where people call computers hard drives, websites call applets --made up of widgets-- widgets, and "professionals" call everything from a windowing system to an application that correlates data an operating system.

    • In addition to the hash of dubious computer buzzwords(the City OS will, of course, run "apps"), there seems to be a giant morass of dubiously tractable problems regarding a distributed system running across hardware controlled by who-knows-how-many different parties.

      The pure engineering/architectural problems of unexpected consequences in complex systems(ie. whatever it was were Amazon accidentally took down EC2 last time, or debugging a cluster application whose failures depend on some wacky race condit
    • Much more like a Network Management System. About as far from the OS as you can get while using a computer.

    • by russotto (537200)

      That is not an OS in any established or even equivalent sense of the word.

      An operating system controls your computer's infrastructure and resources. CityOS controls your city's infrastructure and resources.

  • Politicians and diapers need to be changed frequently and for the same reason. (Who said that? Samuel Clemens? Sounds like something he would have said.)

  • All of the above can and should be achieved with a de-centralized network of independent nodes (CPU's) that communicate with each other. Right now city traffic management is stuck in the 1950's, something should be done about it, and I don't mean "install traffic light cameras on every friggin intersection" as per Bloomberg.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This thing read like a wet dream. One o/s...monitoring...and controlling....every sensor in the city?

    Connected to traffic cameras, traffic lights, building HVAC, lighting systems. That is aware of where fire trucks and law enforcement are? That can give me temperatures on a room-by-room basis? Will it integrate with alarm systems too? Can I use it to monitor lighting and power usage in a room to tell that somebody *really* arrives at 9:03 every day?

    Where do I sign up to gain access to the API docs? I

    • One o/s...monitoring...and controlling....every sensor in the city?

      One o/s to rule them all

      One o/s to find them

      One o/s to bring them all

      And in the darkness bind them...

  • It'll be something Google comes up with. They've bought wind-power technology, some sort of public transportation program (bikes? buses? I forget), YouTube, which presents the opportunity for expansion into a cable TV-alternative, Google voice. I'm sure a grocery delivery program will be coming. I'm 100 percent convinced GTown isn't far down the line. Based on how Google rolls out products, it would be a beta city, of course. ;)
  • "The OS completely bypasses humans to manage communication between sensors and devices such as traffic lights, air conditioning or water pumps that influence the quality of city life"
    --
    I can almost hear the theme music to "Terminator"...

  • C2, not OS (Score:5, Informative)

    by Shoten (260439) on Friday September 30, 2011 @12:42PM (#37568812)

    It's not an operating system, it's called command and control. And Katia Moskovitch (who wrote that article) has her head up her ass; several cities are doing this already, exactly as described. Anaheim, for example, has an extremely sophisticated system, especially when it comes to monitoring activity and helping first responders deal with things like car accidents, fires and hazardous material incidents. I've seen it, from the control center, and it frankly blew me away...very cool stuff. The real interesting part isn't about the data from the sensors, however; that's almost useless by itself. The real value comes from fusing that data with information that is kept about the nature of things. For example, when a fire breaks out at X place, there's information on hand about what is normally found there. Let's say it's a warehouse...does that warehouse keep anything particularly dangerous in storage, and if so, what kinds of dangers does it pose? That information is there, and can be relayed to the police and firefighters on scene so that they know what they're dealing with.

    • by vbraga (228124)

      I think most cities with a large population have some form of a command center. I know where I live (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) the local government runs an "operations center" developed by IBM. See Smarter Cities [ibm.com] and IBM Intelligent Operations Center [ibm.com]. If I recall correctly, Dublin runs more or less the same solution.

    • Anaheim, for example, has an extremely sophisticated system, especially when it comes to monitoring activity and helping first responders deal with things like car accidents, fires and hazardous material incidents.

      Thank Disneyland and Major League Baseball. Between these two there must have been a lot of homeland security dollars available for such a system. I guess the US taxpayer deserves some thanks as well.

      OK the above is somewhat exaggerated. I used to work in Anaheim and I also recall some effort to run fiber optic all over the place long before 9/11. So there was also a symbiotic modernization effort that supported the above.

    • At last.

      Yep boring already exists. Poor sales piece for the company selling this so called OS. I think most /.ers would cream their pant if they saw a real C&C system.

    • For example, when a fire breaks out at X place, there's information on hand about what is normally found there. Let's say it's a warehouse...does that warehouse keep anything particularly dangerous in storage, and if so, what kinds of dangers does it pose?

      I guess they must be using Google. :-)

      All kidding aside, this kind of stuff would make a super compelling demo.

      But the real questions are, how does such a system behave under load? how accurate is the data being collected? And what do the firefighters say about this system when none of their higher ups are around? After all, super cool demos of some technologies are easy to make. They're easy to mock up, and easy to cherry-pick successful anecdotes from, as long as you're the one in charge of the system yo

  • Surely you want your city in the cloud.

    • by Karellen (104380)

      As an ex-smuggler who feels like going straight by, e.g. doing a little gas mining in an out-of-the-way place that won't attract much attention from the emp^H^H^Hauthorities, that sounds like just what I was looking for!

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Well, it worked for San Francisco.

  • "If there's a fire alarm on the fifth floor and the elevator is going to the next floor, the light will switch on - but in addition the traffic lights will be switched accordingly to turn the traffic in the right direction so that fire workers can get through".

    How long before people actively use their knowledge of how one thing effects another so as to manipulate the system into doing their bidding?

  • by AB3A (192265) on Friday September 30, 2011 @12:47PM (#37568894) Homepage Journal

    Yes, City OSs already exist. These are the SCADA systems that utilities use to manage their resources. The problem is that these SCADA systems do not manage resources small enough to make the sorts of differences that these pro-city coordinators expect. It is not financially feasible to do it yet.

    There is also a myth that a central authority will be staffed with geniuses who will automatically comprehend the situation and make it better. As recent blackouts in Chile showed, however, it is quite possible to be overwhelmed with alarms that no human can sort through.

    What good is a boss if he micro-manages everything around?

    • by stubob (204064)

      I expect it to be staffed by Homer Simpson.

      Homer: [reading screen] "To Start Press Any Key". Where's the ANY key?
      I see Esk ["ESC"], Catarl ["CTRL"], and Pig-Up ["PGUP"]. There
      doesn't seem to be any ANY key. Woo! All this computer hacking
      is making me thirsty. I think I'll order a TAB. [presses TAB

  • implies this will happen in european cities, which is actually possible. take California, one of our most progressive states for example. I live in LA, and we cant even keep the streets paved. traffic lights along wilshire routinely pulse and blink on and off at night for no reason. We didnt even get a single competent bike lane until mayor Vilagrosa was run over by a truck on his bike commute to work. America wont see this for 25 years, if ever.
    • traffic lights along wilshire routinely pulse and blink on and off at night for no reason.

      Umm... Many cities set their traffic signals to blink at night because it's more efficient for the reduced traffic load to treat the intersection as stop sign than to sit and wait for an entire light cycle.

      • by knarfling (735361)
        What goes Vroom..Screech...Vroom...Screech....Vroom...Screech?


        A car driven by a blonde at a flashing red light.

        Seriously, I talked with a guy one time that had been driving for several years but had no idea what a flashing red light meant. Not to mention being able to tell the difference between a flashing red light and a flashing yellow light.
  • I hope if this is implemented that redundancy is built in along with fail safe operation if power or communications are cut.

    Along with single point of failure many opportunities of hacking would need to be addressed.

  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Friday September 30, 2011 @01:04PM (#37569116)

    Cities Of the future:

    iCity (the new big Apple) will charge double the taxes to residents, a very intuitive way of manoevering the city. No private enterprise will be allowed- the city must run everything.

    Kindleville, will charge half the taxes, but not many public services.

    Microsoftopolis will be a huge sprawling city- that once had a decent idea, that it stole from iCity. The city will try to do everything, and do badly at most things.

    Googolia will be a tax free haven- but every thing you look do or say will be sent to marketers and the streets will one big billboard.

    Then there is Linux Angeles, taxes will be low, the city will do more for you, if you know how to get around. The only problem is, every facet of your life will be overly complicated and you will be forced to worship a giant penguin.

    • Almost forgot...

      Facebookton- Everyone will know everything you do and say. All buildings will be made of perfectly transparant untinted glass so you can peak into anyone's home and see what they're up to. You are given the option to lock your doors- but everytime the city council changes anything your doors will all randomly spring open letting anyone in.

  • by spinninggears (551247) on Friday September 30, 2011 @01:07PM (#37569168)

    With due respect to the marketing folks behind Urban OS, it reality the engineering is actually going in the direction of passing useful information through the network to a variety of embedded computers who then make such decisions as granting priority to a firetruck.

    I have been developing software such as this for quite a while, and it simply makes a lot more sense to tell, for instance, a traffic controller directly that a city bus is on the way than it does to tell a centralized system that a bus is on the way and have it command a traffic controller. The traffic controller is the "expert system", developed by people who know what it is supposed to be doing. It just needs data to do it's job.

    On that last point, sensor failures are the reason most intelligent traffic controllers fail to do their job correctly, and the more sensors you have, the higher the percentage of failed sensors in the system. You need to solve that problem first, before you worry about what CPU the solution is running on.

    • With all due respect, the marketing folks and politicians always win.

      There isn't a problem in the world where a politician doesn't think making it a central authority won't solve every problem.

      You name it. Education, healthcare, transit, R&D, food, poverty... politicians think if they can just create a national system, they can reap efficiencies and expertise and solve every problem.

      Maybe it has something to do that most politicians are not 'builders' like society and thus don't have to care how things

  • When a handful of messages with single corrupted bits can take down S3, how long do you think systems will keep running at the corner of Corrupt-Politician Street and Lowest-Bidder-Construction Boulevard?
  • You will regret this!

  • Go into a lot of business like Target, Walmart, etc. Corporate central offices control the heating and AC. So even when there are cronic years long issues with sections of buildings being badly controlled (roasting temps at the checkout lanes) there is zero local control.

    Scale this up to a city and...

    1. Nothing like having to submit a bug report once basic functions get buried in million+ lines of code, like say a traffic light that keeps malfunctioning and causing crashes.

    2. Utter chaos when the town B

  • I remember when RFID came out and there was a commercial with a guy walking through a supermarket stuffing things into his oversized coat like a very bad shoplifter and he walks out and is automatically charged for everything thanks to RFID and having his card on file [youtube.com]. Everyone talked about how cool that was and how great it would be. That lasted about a two weeks, then the FUD started. If you don't know what the backlash was, just read the comments of the attached video.

    The same thing would happen

  • Out of curiosity, isn't this exactly the sort of thing you're supposed to be doing with Puppet/CFengine/Chef/Bcfg2? I mean, to keep things running smoothly in a system you're looking to manage its configuration. If the city is a system then why not just create a "node" for each building, street, and so forth and use one of the aforementioned tools to manage it? I can't even imagine it'd be too hard, especially with Puppet due to its modular nature. Something I'm missing?
  • .. to the wonderful pen testing opportunity!
  • If a city operating system wasn't open source. I wouldn't want a city's future pinned to a single company's competence, nor would I trust any one company with having that much power. If we can't trust the private sector with our PlayStations, what makes us think that we can trust them with our traffic lights?

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