The “internet of things,” as the smart grid is often called, entails making our lives, homes and cities more efficient by connecting all the...

The “internet of things,” as the smart grid is often called, entails making our lives, homes and cities more efficient by connecting all the pieces with networking technology and applying advanced strategies like “big data” analytics to better understand how all the pieces interact.

The analogy to the computing internet, though, isn’t entirely applicable. For one, the internet of things is aimed not only at making our systems work better and smarter, but to actually help predict the future.

Consider that bane of metropolitan motorists everywhere, for example: the city traffic jam. Where the traditional response has been to build new roads, expand mass transit or institute congestion pricing, smart technology aims to help predict bottlenecks before they occur and manage traffic accordingly to prevent jams.

Look at what IBM is currently doing in the Chinese city of Zhenjiang. Using its Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities, Big Blue aims to help the city of three million use analytics to not only enable real-time bus monitoring and management, but to simulate traffic flow patterns ahead of time. By anticipating traffic problems before they happen, IBM’s Intelligent Transportation technology is designed to improve the city’s public transit system and “increase traffic throughput” … in other words, make it possible for more traffic to flow through streets without the need to build more roads or otherwise radically change the existing infrastructure.

“(W)e will make our public transportation system faster and more efficient, while making our city a better place to live in,” said Mingnian Yin, director of Zhenjiang’s Reform Commission.

Smarter traffic systems could also help cities make sure emergency vehicles get to where they need to go as fast as possible before, during and after emergencies. Siemens, for instance, envisions using intelligent software to ensure ambulances are assured of green lights and clear sailing through intersections. Smart traffic applications could even be used to disable cars that show no signs of stopping before they pose an accident risk for emergency responders.

Many traffic technology companies have already deployed data-driven camera systems to improve traffic safety and enforcement. Redflex Traffic Systems, for example, recently released a camera system designed to identify motorists who fail to stop for school buses. And companies like TomTom and Blom are using advanced traffic analysis and geographic information systems to improve travel times in cities across Europe and other parts of the world.