Developing a smart campus is something many educational institutions are seeking to accomplish. There is a dire need for schools and universities to re-examine how their campuses operate in terms of security, asset management, traffic, energy savings. That's where the Internet of Things (IoT) plays a major role in bringing these smart campuses to life and enabling them to enhance their security measures, operational efficiencies, and citizen experiences.

Science fiction visionaries have been mapping out hypothetical futures for generations. Still, these stories are often a commentary on the present rather than a reflection of the actual future to come. Driven by the practical realities of the modern world and the rise of IoT technologies, smart cities are coming to redefine how we live, work, and play.

From smart security management to smart energy management to smart waste management to smart water management, the ideal smart city puts the tools in the hands of the people and decentralises systems of power. And with the implementation of a smart city operations centre, IoT allows for the development of smaller smart cities that serve as specialised hubs within the larger ecosystem of the smart city. Smart campuses are one of the more important forms these cities can take. They can potentially change how schools and universities serve their students and contribute to their communities and environment at large.

What is a smart campus?

A smart campus is the future of school and university campuses. It is a fresh take on what we should be able to achieve at educational facilities. A smart campus takes the premise of the smart city and adapts it to develop educational facilities and infrastructure that facilitate the journey towards a smart, sustainable future.

Campuses that already exist within a larger smart city framework might not have direct control over IoT applications that manage security, energy, waste, or water. Campuses that don't can feasibly begin setting new standards for their larger communities. In either case, these new and sustainable campuses employ IoT applications in a way that uniquely streamlines their operational efficiency and reduces the overall costs of managing their assets and resources. In addition to emphasising environmental sustainability, modular scalability is at the root of the smart campus. The cluster of communities that make up a campus often establish themselves as unique bubbles within the larger urban ecosystem. Smart campuses simply allow us to better employ the infrastructure that's already there and create more streamlined systems of infrastructure where traditional ones are failing or don't exist at all.

What form a smart campus takes (and the extent of how smart it can be) is a highly mutable thing—but that's simply a reflection of the fact that a campus' shape and infrastructure is influenced by everything from geographical location to size to the fields of academics being taught. A school or town college might improve sustainability by creating real-time tracking of their bus lines and collecting data on student traffic patterns to streamline their routes. By contrast, an urban university with isolated campus buildings might use smart irrigation systems to manage water consumption, smart lighting systems to manage energy consumption, and smart parking applications to ease on-campus traffic congestion. They can also use smart digital signage to display interactive location maps and employ data hubs to facilitate traditional and remote learning schedules, adjust classroom locations and schedules, and reflect off-campus student populations.

In both cases, campuses can employ the same fundamental technology to foster a smart, sustainable future in different ways.

Why do we need smart campuses?

It's predicted that over 75 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2025—and the next generation of students will be growing up with an intuitive understanding of this new model of society. From the hard-nosed perspective of investors, a campus that can't keep up with these developing trends will fall behind. Greater infrastructural efficiency creates more economically viable academic models. The vast amount of data that IoT devices can transmit allows university trustees or investors to evaluate their options with greater precision and speed than ever.

And since this technology is scalable and still burgeoning, this isn't a model that naturally benefits prestigious Ivy League schools or tech campuses. The relatively unknown Arizona State University is actually helping lead the charge in smart campus technologies. But smart campuses are important for creating a smart, sustainable future as well. ASU's smart sensors don't just feed out information on a building's energy usage. They create a baseline picture of overall energy usage that's referred to internally as the "campus metabolism".

The benefits of smart applications in smart campuses

Schools and universities should be increasingly responsive and adaptable to employ the same systems and solutions as major towns and cities. The innovation can't end once students and citizens leave their increasingly smarter homes. It needs to continue throughout their entire daily activities and experiences. By focusing on how city operators and campus administrators manage and interact with their facilities, schools and universities can employ smart IoT applications that foster innovation and significantly improve the experience of students, staff, and administrators.

The notion of an accurate and accountable campus metabolism is just one way in which smart applications can benefit everyone. One of the strongest advantages is how putting these applications in the hands of everyone, from administrators to students to staff, can create conversations about sustainability. For example, studying student foot traffic patterns allows for the implementation of smart access control systems and smart poles that can both improve security while also demonstrating more efficient models for energy usage.

Moreover, smart campuses can actually help promote student success. Using devices for attendance monitoring could help professors in larger classes account for all of their students while also highlighting potentially struggling students who might benefit from additional resources. And ASU's interactive campus map makes the lives of drivers on campus easier by giving them real-time parking information, but it also organically streamlines traffic throughout the campus. IoT applications like these offer a low overhead solution that depends on the aggregate of human behaviour to promote sustainability.

The critical role of a smart city operations centre

Fundamentally, the success and sustainability of both smart cities and smart campuses are predicated on one thing: access to information. This is where a smart city operations centre comes in. By administering the entire campus in real-time and gathering all of the available data in one place, that information can be filtered and analysed in countless different ways. Smart city operators can then react to emergencies faster, make better-informed decisions, and find new ways of looking at data that helps them improve efficiency even further. These data hubs are the nerve centre for smart cities—and even if a campus is ultimately just part of a larger urban ecosystem, having an individual's smart city operations centre can provide analysis that's laser-focused on the needs of the academic institution.

What’s next: the path forward for smart campuses

The future of smart campuses is going to be a future of self-determination. As IoT becomes more available, affordable, and adoptable, and new technologies like 5G become widely used, the capabilities of smart technology integration will become more feasible for more schools and universities. We're still at the early stages of defining what smart campuses of the future look like. But the vision is there, the technology is there, and the need is there.

Campuses of varying sizes and shapes can employ available technologies to improve the models they've been using and develop tools to overcome infrastructural and operational challenges that have been too expensive or difficult to solve until now—in a more sustainable manner. And while the sci-fi stories may come from the imagination of a singular thinker, this new future will be built from the minds, movements, and behaviours of everyone within the community.

Are you building a smart city? Connect with one of our IoT experts to discuss how we can help you manage your smart, sustainable city with Cervello Cities, our Smart City Operations Centre (SCOC).