One of the trickiest parts of proving the value of emerging smart city technology is showing how city residents could benefit from data being picked up by sensors located on light poles and along streets.
On Tuesday, officials in Kansas City, Mo., took steps to connect how such real-time data gathered by sensors provides benefits to its citizens.
City officials unveiled an online interactive map for the public that shows available parking, traffic and KC Streetcar locations in real time with data gathered from 122 video sensors along a two-mile segment of Main Street in the downtown.
Also, at a press conference on the same day, a city contractor asked the Alexa voice service running on an Amazon Echo device which city’s buses were running late. In the demonstration, Alexa was able to come back with an answer naming the top five late buses by correlating bus routes with an array of available data.
The new interactive map and the Alexa demonstration help show how Kansas City is realizing the promise of $15 million in smart city initiatives, which launched nine months ago along with the KC Streetcar, city officials said.
“Smart city sensors and digital tools are cool, but understanding how to use these tools and the data that they generate bridges the gap between cool and smart,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said at the event.
The city said its data from sensors will help the city run more efficiently. That data, plus free public Wi-Fi and interactive kiosks along the streetcar segment, make Kansas City the “most connected city in North America,” the city claimed.
The interactive online map is operated by city contractor Xaqt, a Chicago-based company that provides integrated intelligence and collaboration tools for cities.
With the map, a user can see the location of streetcars as well as how many vehicles passed streetcars at each hour in the past 24 hours and their real-time speeds. Available street parking is also shown in green, and by clicking on a parking area icon, it is possible to see available spaces at that location.
Eventually, the city hopes to expand the use of sensors to other congested corridors. In the future, Alexa will be able to tell a user the location of the nearest free parking space and provide a daily forecast of public activities and meetings, said Bob Bennett, the city’s chief innovation officer, in an interview.
The city is also beginning to work with Cisco Spark, a team messaging and video-calling tool, to help city workers use data on real-time transit and traffic delays to improve response times to problem areas. The city is also testing an algorithm built by Xaqt that analyzes city data to predict when an aging building will be vacant to efficiently coordinate city inspections.
Bennett said that as the smart city infrastructure expands, the city will use the data to drive decisions that save taxpayers money with more efficient repairs and maintenance of city streets, water lines and other city infrastructure. The city owns all the data and will migrate it to the city’s Open Data Catalog.
Chris Crosby, CEO of Xaqt, said the interactive map along the streetcar route is “just the start of the city becoming a data and information service provider.”
Such data can become an economic analysis tool and a planning guide for public safety as well as public education expansion and improvements, Crosby said.
“What we have done today is a start, and now there is an appetite to use this data for civic growth,” Bennett said.
In the next several months, the city will increase its data presentations and expand the sensor network, Bennett said. One concept being explored is to introduce sophisticated listening sensors that can detect gunshots, similar to what New York has done with Shotspotter technology, he said. New York has begun to expand that technology, finding it has been effective in faster responses to crime.
Kansas City’s methods for using big data to solve city problems may help officials with the National Institute of Standards and Technology set standards and best practices for big data use, including protecting personal privacy, the city said in a statement.
Bennett said NIST officials joined a workshop in Kansas City this week with officials from 18 other cities and several federal agencies to share ideas for using smart tech to solve city problems. “We are sharing what we have learned with them,” he said.