Carlos Caicedo is an associate professor at the School of Information Studies. His research mostly focuses on wireless communications and systems, but he also spends his time designing networks and thinking deeply about the “internet of things”. He teaches several courses about computer networking, cloud technology, and data analysis. 

To help the city of Syracuse deal with its vacant housing problem, Caicedo is involved in an ongoing project that monitors abandoned houses within the city. As the number of vacant lots increases, or even plateaus, surrounding property values crater. At more than 1,500 properties and counting, this has become a major challenge facing city leaders. From the iSchool, Caicedo is leading a team that designed systems for monitoring and measuring several environmental variables present on these lots. The city has an interest in selling these properties for redevelopment wherever possible, or to completely demolish them if they rise to the level of public nuisance or safety hazard. In order to make informed decisions about these properties, an enormous amount of data needs to be collected and analyzed to help steer the decision making process. 

Caicedo’s team have developed and deployed a series of sensors, with funding from the Empire State Development (ESD) program, and have been monitoring the “health” of a subset of these vacant properties all around Syracuse. All of the data is put into dashboards that city officials can access and easily see the results of this data collection. Knowing the “health” of a property, or group of properties, allows city officials to make plans for these lots based on empirical data. They also have the dashboards setup with alerts for any of the sensors that detect excessive amounts of humidity, heat, CO2, smoke, other gasses, etc. If there is a need to send an inspector to a location, they find out in real time. 

In addition to the sensors, Caicedo’s team is working on a system of cameras that they will integrate into the existing dashboards, giving another layer of remote monitoring capability. As part of the problem facing the city is the sheer number of vacant properties versus the number of qualified inspectors working for the city. Since they can’t physically visit all of the locations in a reasonable amount of time, this technological solution allows them to target the problem properties with more accuracy. 

“So, we build this whole solution, and hopefully the city can evaluate how well these sensor-based, internet-of-things, type solutions work for this problem, and how much it costs.”, says Caicedo. He considers this a test bed for vacant property solutions, and one that could be replicated in other cities, if proven successful. 

One of the highlights of the project so far has been the deployment of LoRaWAN (Long Range Wireless Access Network). Syracuse University has one of these networks installed and the City of Syracuse is working on installing its own. The hope is that they will be integrated together at some point in the future. This is exciting because it is a highly useful and cost-effective communications network that has been a real challenge to install. Caicedo points out that the hilliness of Syracuse is a great source of consternation for the team that is building the network. The experience that he and his team have gained from working on this project has been invaluable, and the success that they enjoy from all of their efforts can be used as blueprints for other cities.

Caicedo has also been working on a project that studies the Centro bus service in the City of Syracuse. For this project, his team focused on analyzing the ridership data from 2019 and 2020. Their goal was to determine how the pandemic impacted ridership and what those impacts might mean in terms of funding for Centro. 

They also started to look at larger patterns among Centro customers and used the unusual circumstances of the pandemic to model improvements to the bus system’s overall operations. Caicedo’s team has been working in collaboration with Centro itself, as well as the department of civil engineering at Syracuse University.

Partnerships like these, between the city and the university, allow students and professors to work on real problems impacting the communities they live in. And the city gets the benefits of world-class scholars and resources dedicated to solving large and complicated problems. Caicedo is taking his opportunity to effect real positive change in the city of Syracuse, and the iSchool is leading the charge.