The potential for MQTT in realizing the smart city vision

The technology industry loves an acronym, and here’s one might be new to a lot of people: MQTT. And while the acronym itself doesn’t give much away, even the expanded version – Message Queue Telemetry Transport – doesn’t help a great deal more, nor give a sense of its potential. But as a communications protocol that facilitates the efficient and reliable exchange of data between IoT devices and cloud applications, MQTT is already being used in a number of sectors, and is likely to play a significant role in the realization of smart city goals.

MQTT: a protocol for any connected device

MQTT has been designed as an extremely reliable and lightweight messaging transport protocol that is ideal for connecting remote devices with a small code footprint and minimal network bandwidth.

It is easy to program, scalable, and reliable, enabling a complete system architecture from all types of sensor to the server- or cloud-based application. As an OASIS standard, MQTT is based on open standards and is open source, which should quickly help it become ubiquitous.

Sitting on top of the better-known and well-established TCP/IP protocol, MQTT is finding its way into the increasingly connected urban infrastructure: street lights, traffic lights, parking management systems, charging stations, bike stations, air, weather, noise, vibration sensors…and many more. The data from these can then be used in numerous applications which in turn bring benefits to city administrators, service providers and citizens themselves.

Here at Axis, we’re looking closely at the potential benefits of integrating MQTT into our surveillance cameras and other connected devices. That might seem counterintuitive – after all, live and recorded video is hardly lightweight messaging – but it highlights the evolution of the video surveillance paradigm.

From real-time video to data creation

Traditionally, of course, the main benefit of surveillance cameras has been the provision of high-quality video footage. While this remains a core function, the sophistication of todays connected video cameras, and in particularly with deep learning-based edge analytics within cameras themselves, they are becoming increasingly intelligent sensors. And with this intelligence comes the creation of valuable data beyond simply video itself.

Put simply, whether a sensor is reacting to sound, smoke, temperature or movement, it is turning this information into data which can be transferred as a message to application which then prompts an appropriate response, whether automated or human.

MQTT’s potential for smart cities

At its foundation, the vision for smart cities relies on the efficient exchange of data between connected devices and sensors and cloud-based applications. Whether managing traffic and transportation, ensuring the safety of people as they move throughout the city, monitoring air quality and other environmental factors, or enabling the fastest and most appropriate response from the emergency services, combining data from IoT devices is essential. The reliability of MQTT’s message delivery, even over poor-quality telecommunications networks, can play a foundational role in smart cities meeting their objectives for citizen safety and security, in addition to overall liveability.

To take an example use case, a sensor detecting a deterioration in air quality around a city’s streets could utilize MQTT to connect this with live traffic data to see whether a build-up of traffic in certain areas was causing an increase in pollution. This could then lead to the automated redirection of traffic through less busy streets, allowing the pollution to fall to acceptable levels.

In a more severe and sudden scenario, a rapid fall in air quality which immediately exceeds safe levels could be caused by a fire producing dangerously toxic smoke. In this instance, messages carried via MQTT could alert emergency services, prompt PTZ cameras to focus on the affected are for visual verification, and automatically play pre-recorded messages to ensure public safety.

While air quality is a key area of focus for smart cities, critical infrastructure is protected by numerous types of sensor which, similarly, could be connected over MQTT. Gas substations, for example, have sensors which monitor for both pressure and leakage. Alerts sent via MQTT in relation to acceptable measurement thresholds being approach or exceeded by these sensors could provide early warning of the potential for catastrophic explosion, again alerting emergency services and rapidly evacuating the affected area.

The role of partners

While at Axis we’re focused on delivering the highest-quality video surveillance cameras and audio sensors it is our community of partners which innovates to develop the applications that take best advantage of the hardware. With MQTT becoming part of AXIS Camera Application Platform (ACAP) – the open application platform that enables Axis partners to develop applications that can be downloaded and installed on Axis network cameras and video encoders – its potential can be explored.

Living in a data-driven world

For much of the past decade years, the mantra has been about ‘Big Data’: how we’re going to harness the potential of the huge volumes of data created by the Internet of Things and connected devices of all types. But ‘small data’ is as critically important, perhaps more so.

The efficient, reliable and instantaneous exchange of small packets of data and messages between IoT devices and connected sensors and applications that allow the appropriate action to be taken to benefit citizens of the world’s cities. MQTT is an exciting enabling technology in this ‘small data’ world and we’ll be watching its progress with keen interest.

Read more about how Axis can support you to meet these smart city trends.

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