Connecting Cities to a Smarter Future

Iveda Solutions CEO David Ly drives the integration of digital technology with municipal infrastructure to improve the lives of local citizens.

In late 1979, the grandfather of four-year-old David Ly paid a fisherman in Ho Chi Minh City, Republic of Vietnam, to take his grandson and the boy’s aunt out into the South China Sea in hopes of escaping the Communist government that had assumed power after the Fall of Saigon in 1975.


Seeking Connection

Aboard that crowded fishing vessel, Ly – he would become known as a boat baby – and his aunt did not know if they would make it to a refugee camp in Hong Kong, Malaysia, or Singapore – or perish at sea. Fortunately, they were both rescued by a Norwegian trawler and transported safely to Osaka, Japan.


Ironically, Ly’s lack of connectivity to the world at that time, and the uncertainty that anyone else in the world would ever know about or take action to change his circumstance helped inspire a career focused on helping cities create and maintain strong, self-healing connectivity among municipal assets and infrastructure.

David Ly, CEO and Founder, Iveda Solutions - Iveda photo
Going Digital

Today, as chief executive officer and founder of Iveda Solutions, Mesa, Ariz., Ly guides the development of digital technology that can be integrated into municipal networks, services and infrastructure to create “smart” cities.


The company’s products include Internet of Things (IoT) sensors for smart networks, smart power systems, cloud-based video monitoring and data management systems, and AI-based video analytics.


Starting with contracts in New Taipei City, Taiwan in 2008, and more recently in Mexico City, Ly's list of smart city customers now includes municipalities in the U.S., Japan, South Africa and Egypt.


“A smart city starts with connectivity,” he explains. “All of your devices have to communicate with one another and some central point of intelligence. That central node has to be smart enough to assess the incoming data, take action physically and alert humans to the situation.”


Discovering New Technology

Ly celebrated his fifth birthday as a refugee in Japan, but made it to San Jose, Calif. as a sponsored immigrant in time to start kindergarten. It would be three more years until he was reunited with his father – a former member of the South Vietnamese Army.

Mt. Pleasant High School Gym - Photo courtesy of Simon Ladesma

As a kid, Ly loved to draw and build imaginary cities from sand, sticks and rocks. At Mt. Pleasant High School in San Jose, however, his hobbies took a decidedly technical tack. William Carpenter, a science and English teacher at the school, introduced him to personal computers and CD-ROM technology.


Together, Ly and Carpenter founded Mt. Pleasant’s first computer club. Ly’s cousin, an employee of nearby Intel, added momentum to the effort by helping them secure computer donations from the chip giant.


Engineering a Career

The true harbinger of Ly’s career in engineering and technology, however, was his decision to join Mt. Pleasant's Manufacturing and Industrial Technology (MIT) program.


“We took some simple tests and went to school like everyone else, but we were in this awesome program,” recalls Ly. “We got to play with robotics and CNC [computer numerically controlled] machines; we learned how to build things and how to do things right, the engineering way.”

San Francisco State University - Photo courtesy of Michael Ocampo

Oddly, he almost missed the engineering boat when he selected architecture as his major at San Francisco State University. Fortunately, his college counselor talked him out of it.


“She pointed out that as an architect, I’d be working frequently with civil engineers and designing things,” Ly reminisces. “She recommended that I get my degree in civil engineering instead and then pursue my design interests on the side.”


Selling the Dream

During college, Ly worked as a salesman, first for Radio Shack, and later for Metricom Inc., an early wireless communications company based in San Jose. Metricom had developed Ricochet, the first wide-area wireless data Internet access services in the U.S.


When Ly graduated San Francisco State in 1999 — he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with a minor in international business — Metricom offered him a full-time job.

After being promoted to Southwest Application Engineering manager a year later, Ly and his wife, his high school sweetheart, moved to Phoenix.


“Metricom was an awesome company,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, they went belly-up in 2001, leaving me and my wife effectively ‘stranded.’”


Spotting Opportunity

Fortunately, newly minted wireless technology experts like Ly were very much in demand; he found his way quickly to T-Mobile, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.


Serendipitously, one of T-Mobile’s largest wireless equipment customers at the time, a security services company in Arizona, was wrestling with a problem they hoped Ly could help solve. The company was trying to figure out how best to validate real-time requests for mobile patrol services before dispatching officers to customer sites, often in sweltering,100-degree-plus summer heat.


“I suggested they put up webcams at each customer site, then log on and take a look before sending officers,” Ly recalls. “If they saw something funny, respond as usual; if not, it was probably just the wind or an animal that had triggered the alarm.”


That brief interaction got him thinking about how emerging video monitoring tools and network technology could potentially help cities, corporations, and even private citizens remotely monitor and respond to security threats on their property.

Photo courtesy of Iveda Solutions

In 2003, Ly founded Iveda Solutions to address this new opportunity. He took the company public in April 2022 (NASDAQ: IVDA).


Building Sustainable Infrastructure

The ideal smart city, Ly emphasizes, should be able to take care of minor municipal snafus without having to inconvenience or cause extra work for its citizens.


“We can use smart sensor technology in say, municipal water systems, to detect abnormal flow conditions, automatically shut off errant pumps or valves, and then alert humans to the problem,” he proposes. “Once a technician has time to diagnose the problem, repairs can be made. In the meantime, municipal infrastructure won’t be left in jeopardy.”


Silhouette of smart pole holding video monitoring equipment
Smart pole technology - Photo courtesy of Shane Alpendorff via Pexels

Cities can also make their urban infrastructure smarter, Ly suggests, by investing in “smart (utility) pole” technology. Smart poles typically integrate intelligent LED lighting systems, Wi-Fi communications devices, video monitoring cameras, and even battery systems that can serve as electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. Smart poles can also be networked into a micro-grid to provide power for critical municipal infrastructure in the event of power outages


“Most modern cities already have powered light poles,” he notes. “With the addition of smart power management and wireless communications technologies, those poles can talk to each other, creating a network that can stream and analyze video footage, or manage local IoT devices such as water meters, electric meters, valves or sensors.”


Taking Care of Small Business

But smart infrastructure is not just for municipal entities, Ly emphasizes. It can also be used to monitor and protect private property.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Tr. Armstrong via Pexels

Ly points to the case of an owner of a large fruit orchard who plans to use smart pole technology to establish reliable visual control over thousands of hectares of apple trees.


“With smart pole technology, the owner can create a mesh network of environmental sensors that will allow him to monitor weather conditions in his orchards remotely,” he reports. “AI-based sensors will also help him detect and identify birds, humans and other specific objects in that space.”


Facing Challenges

Still, Ly admits, there are very real challenges, both physical and philosophical, to creating smart cities. For one thing, smart networks need power, a requirement usually fulfilled by municipal power systems, or, in remote locations, by renewable power such as wind and solar energy. And, like cellular towers, smart network nodes need to meet a community’s aesthetic requirements.

Digital technology underpins future smart cities. Photo courtesy of Deva Darshan via Pexels

Some cities are also concerned that the large amounts of data collected by smart networks could be hacked, stolen or manipulated, potentially violating the privacy of local citizens or causing municipal functions to grind to a halt.


“With most Iveda clients, we develop the network and provide basic health monitoring of that network,” Ly emphasizes. “Our customers own the software that collects, manages and controls their data. We do not collect, store or analyze any data, unless our customer specifically asks for that service.”


He believes that Iveda’s customers are not focused primarily on privacy issues but rather on using smart technology to address real-world concerns such as transportation scheduling, security breaches or tracking of municipal assets.


Embracing a Smarter Future

Work days begin early in the comfortable, two-story home in Chandler, Ariz. that Ly shares with his wife, three kids, three dogs and three pet rats. He does his initial problem solving for the day on a stationary bike, then grabs a cup of coffee and hops in his car for the 20-minute drive to Iveda’s headquarters in nearby Mesa.


Ly admits that the municipal infrastructures of Chandler and Mesa are not yet very smart, but he is philosophical about getting there.


“My goal every day is to keep building out proofs of concept of smart cities in as many locations as possible on as large a scale as possible to help people adopt and adapt, then bring that experience back home,” he says. “It’s going to take time to build smart cities from the ground up.”

Bruce Lee Statue, Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong; Photo courtesy of AD Teasdale via Creative Commons
Going with the Flow

In the meantime, Ly has taken to channeling Bruce Lee and the late actor and martial arts expert’s philosophy to “be formless, shapeless like water.”


"Smart cities and smart technology are still evolving, and we have to be one with the environment and change as necessary,” he suggests. “We can’t be rigid in our thinking, but rather allow ideas to be flexible and interchangeable. In business and in life, I try to be like water, learning along the way, making changes and adapting.”


Starting Small, Thinking Big

Ly is cautiously optimistic, however, that smart cities and smart infrastructure will gain momentum. Starting small is key, he believes, but starting is essential.


Smart cities can begin with a single smart house. Photo courtesy of Binyamin Mellish via Pexels

"Let’s not just talk about smart technology,” he proposes. “Let’s pick a spot – a house, a neighborhood and try out some new technology.


"A smart house will beget a smart neighborhood which could beget a smart city. It requires action and it won’t happen overnight, but if we’re not willing to change, we’re never going to be smart.”





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If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like my profile on Heather Degrella, an architect who plans, designs and helps develop smart, sustainable facilities in Portland, Ore. If you have ideas or recommendations for other profiles, please send them to me at brooks@personsofinfrastructure.com

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