Guiding the smart city: which is better, IoT sensors or cameras?

Smart Cities draw on all the capabilities of the most advanced technologies to make life easier for citizens in areas such as urban mobility. Here, we are focusing on improving traffic and circulation and addressing an issue that often raises doubts when discussing projects with our clients: is IoT sensors or camera-based detection better?

Each type of detection has a number of usage characteristics that may make them more appropriate depending on each project’s circumstances. Which of the two options is better for managing parking and mobility in cities more efficiently, less expensively, and more effectively? Do they have the same technological capacity or operate with the same technology?

At Urbiotica, we want to clarify this issue, so in this article we will first talk about what IoT sensors are, how they work, and what their advantages are, and then we will do the same with cameras. Finally, we will take stock of or summarize these two options.

What are IoT sensors and how do they work?

IoT sensors are devices that are installed under the surface by drilling a hole in the asphalt. Their purpose is to carry out tasks such as single-spot detection to monitor the vehicles occupying and vacating parking spots.

They are very quick to install and can be fixed in the curb, avoiding the need to remove vehicles if preferred. Once installed, the sensor never requires maintenance or intervention during its 10-year service life because the intelligence resides in the Urbiotica platform, not in the sensor, and calibrations and adjustments are made from there, which also minimizes energy consumption and guarantees their long life.

Regarding the characteristics of IoT sensors and their specific functions to favor sustainable urban mobility, parking spot monitoring, and traffic movement, we can talk about the following points:

Real-time detection of vehicles entering and leaving parking spots

These sensors can detect vehicles occupying and vacating parking spots in real time and with a high degree of reliability (>98%). This is made possible by the high sensitivity of the advanced technologies, which can discriminate all types of interference in order to correctly detect vehicles. In other words, they can distinguish electromagnetic interference or false events, thus achieving extraordinary reliability.

Furthermore, these detection sensors are not affected by adverse weather conditions such as rain, snow, or airborne dust particles. As a result, their technology is able to reliably detect when a parking spot is occupied by a car and when it leaves. The U-Spot sensor is currently installed and operating successfully in cities with extreme climates such as Burlington, Doha, and Vienna.

U-Spot: detección IoT plaza a plaza

U-Spot: Single-spot IoT detection

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What are detection cameras and how do they work?

On the other hand, with detection cameras in the parking spots, their occupancy can be monitored by collecting images and processing them using specific software based on artificial intelligence and deep learning.

This instantly detects any change in occupancy and is 99% reliable over its lifetime. This software allows up to 50 parking spots to be covered with a single camera, but they must be installed in somewhat high places where there are no obstacles preventing their view of the parking spots. The most notable features of these devices are the following:

Installation in high places

As mentioned above, parking enforcement detection cameras are installed in high places to allow images free of impediments or barriers such as trees, traffic signs, and the like.

In this way, they provide an appropriate panoramic view of the parking zones, and it is important that the facilities are properly managed to avoid visual barriers.

Image processing with Artificial Intelligence

There are cameras installed in parking spots on the market that take pictures, store them in the Cloud, and process them with artificial intelligence. They enable aspects like the occupancy of parking spots and the correct use of regulated or reserved parking spots to be monitored.

These cameras use advanced technologies and take images that respect the privacy of vehicle data to prevent license plates or the faces of the people in the vehicles from being identified.

U-Spot VISIO: detección I.A plaza a plaza

U-Spot VISIO: A.I. Single-spot detection

The space-by-space detection software uses Artificial Intelligence to detect the entry and exit of vehicles in each parking space in real time.
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IoT sensors vs. cameras: which is more efficient?

So far we have seen the most important features of underground sensors and detection cameras for parking occupancy management and vehicle guidance, and for the monitoring of reserved or regulated parking spots, all of which aim to improve mobility. These are two of the most widespread uses of technologies based on artificial intelligence or real-time data management in the field of urban mobility.

So the pressing question is: Which technology will provide the most effective and appropriate monitoring within the context of smart cities? Remember that we are talking about solutions that communicate through IoT and advanced communication networks.

Given the diversity of conditions and requirements in each project, both IoT sensors and detection cameras play a key role. Therefore, neither is better than the other, as both offer highly reliable detection. Their efficiency depends largely on the specific circumstances of each project.

  • M2M sensors (IoT) have one major advantage: their independence from data transmission gateways. This feature makes them exceptionally efficient, especially in parking areas with scattered parking spots, such as loading and unloading bays or spots for people with reduced mobility (PRM).
  • They are also highly recommendable for parking facilities in areas with obstructed views, such as those surrounded by trees or equipped with canopies, which can hinder camera ranges. Furthermore, the sensors’ ability to operate without requiring a dedicated power supply can make a difference in certain projects. This not only simplifies the installation process but can also have a significant impact on the overall viability and cost-effectiveness of the parking solution, depending on the project’s specific requirements.
  • On the other hand, detection cameras can be more cost-effective in environments with good visibility, since a single camera can monitor more than 50 parking spots and they avoid the need to drill holes in parking spots to install sensors. However, they can be affected by physical obstructions such as tree growth or the addition of street furniture and parking lots.

That said, it is important to note that the best solution in many projects may be a combination of both technologies: installing cameras in places with good visibility and sensors in others. In the end, each project is unique, and the choice between sensors and cameras or a combination of both will always depend on its specific features.

At Urbiotica, we value and understand the uniqueness of each project, as we have emphasized throughout this article. Therefore, instead of promoting a single solution, we are inclined to offer a solution tailored to each project, and we advise our customers in this decision process based on our more than 15 years’ experience implementing smart parking solutions all over the world. Detection or surveillance cameras can have their place, just as IoT sensors can. Each plays a vital role at different times. The ultimate choice will always be determined by the specific needs and mobility goals of the smart city project.

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