Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

Cisco Gains Traction In The Connected Road Race

Cisco wants to give IBM some competition in the Internet-enabled cities space.

Tech giant Cisco thinks there's something to all this talk of "smart cities"—and that connecting roads or license plate readers to the Internet is going to be big business.

In the latest installment of their ongoing expansion into the Internet of Things, Cisco recently announced an agreement with Swiss security firm AGT International to develop smart traffic systems for cities around the world.

In early February, Cisco and AGT unveiled the details of an upcoming Internet of Things-enabled traffic management system that incorporates sensors embedded in pavements, license plate-reading systems, social media feeds, and video cameras to "identify, respond to, and resolve" traffic incidents in real time. According to a press release, the system is designed to provide long-term analytics on traffic accidents and to allow different agencies to share video feeds.

Some people may find the AGT-Cisco product a bit creepy—after all, it's a traffic management system that reads license plate numbers and integrates social media. Nevertheless, it's part of a much larger trend in which city, state, and federal agencies use sensors to monitor the smallest aspects of everyday urban life.

It's also designed to compete with a competitor who already has a lock on the smart cities market. IBM markets a similar Internet of Things traffic product to municipalities worldwide. IBM's offering is designed to monitor auto, truck, and public transit in real time, part of a much larger suite of city-oriented analytics products.

Cisco and AGT's use of sensors embedded in roads similar to one of Google's key strategies for self-driving cars. While road sensors are commonly used to track traffic or weather damage to pavement, Google's eventual hope is that sensors placed at regular intervals on interstate highways can help guide driverless cars to their destination and provide a crucial vehicle spacing mechanism. Smart roads, and a constant stream of data for government from drivers, are likely to be a moneymaker for companies like Cisco, AGT, IBM, and Google for years to come.

"Today, 99 percent of the physical world is not connected to the Internet," Cisco's Wim Elfrink wrote in a statement. "However, cities are the epicenter of the Internet of Everything, where people, things, data and processes can be connected to deliver new and amazing value. Think about the possibilities. It is a vision we can realize today through the unique combination of Cisco's unparalleled networking and computing technology and AGT's cutting-edge smart cities platform."

While Cisco's work in the Internet of Things space has mainly been aimed at corporate clients, especially in the industrial sphere, they've been trying hard to crack the Internet of Things code for city governments. Thanks to IBM's early entry into the governmental Internet of Things field, they've had the best luck so far when it comes to signing up major clients.

However, Cisco already has agreements with major cities like Barcelona. AGT, whose CEO Mati Kochavi is also the financial backer of news site Vocativ, already has strong contacts with many city customers thanks to AGT's primary security business—contacts which are likely beneficial for AGT's partner, Cisco.

But it looks their initial customer base will be outside the United States; according to a report in Fortune, rollout over the next three-to-five years will mainly be in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. There's lots of money to be made, too: At this year's CES, Cisco CEO John Chambers predicted the Internet of Things would become a $19 trillion market over the next few years.

[Image via SplitShire]

Add New Comment


  • Thats great. But a really smart road would repair itself. It's the 21st century. Can we come come up with something useful, like roads that don't fall to pieces after a snow storm?

  • As I understand it, Google's self-driving cars can't detect hazardous road conditions. One solution to that problem would be to make the roads "smarter". If the roads had sensors and could communicate conditions, that would enable smart cars to adjust their driving behavior.

  • Neal Ungerleider

    Agreed. Not to mention the fact that proper spacing between autonomous vehicles in many situations (think on a crowded avenue leading up to a highway on-ramp) is pretty much contingent on embedded road sensors...

  • Neal Ungerleider

    Thanks John - I had not come across that Levandowski interview before and found it extremely interesting. Given that other folks I have spoken with have been extremely pro-embedded road sensors as a part of interstate autonomous vehicle usage, the difference of opinion is pretty damn interesting...

  • Gavin Snyder

    Welcome to the world of economic fascism, folks. This is what happens when you have giant tech companies in bed with the federal government. I'm sure they'll say it's "for the children."

  • David Allentown

    A massive invasion of personal privacy. The East German Stazi is going to rule the world.

    It's not technology that is a bad thing. It is how it is applied and used, and in this case it's not a good thig.

  • Brad Panassow

    Please note - BOYCOTT Cisco. Beyond 'Big Brother' this is a direct violation of the Constitution and American values. Electronic surveillance without a warrant is prohibited---period. Does anyone believe this will only be for 'social media'? Really?

  • Did no one read 1984? Technology isn't inherently a good thing. Its use must be constitutional at least. If our taxes pay for the roads, shouldn't we have a say in what technology is used on them?

  • La Billyboy

    This technology would be great if it can break up traffic jams, identify rotten/impaired drivers and take their licenses, find illegals and send them back... useful in the big cities, everywhere else not so much. As long as the system does not keep a log of where a car was just where it is and where it might be headed I have no problem with it, just as long as the history is dumped. For traffic violators or criminals the system should light them up so the police can get them off the road and into jail.

    If you aren't doing anything wrong, who cares if someone is watching you in public? Very different than keeping a log of my movements or phone calls or purchases or anything that takes place in the privacy of my own property.

  • We should all care about being watched in public if this is, indeed, a free country. And we would be very naive fools to think that the info would be dumped. And why collect info on us unless they plan to use it against us? Sad and scary. Personally we will do all we can to avoid this...and by all, we mean all means will be taken.

  • Corbin Miller

    Did you ever read 1984? This is completely Orwellian and indicative of the liberal State control which is trying to dominate our future. It should be fought at all costs.

  • Buck Wheat

    Looks like every company in the country wants to get into the national spying business, screw the people, screw the Constitution, long live Crony Capitalism and National Socialism. Keep it up, just look at the Ukraine, at some point this nation is going to pop.