Watching a Smart City Progress

This piece was originally published in the April 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.

By Mark L. Little, City of Schenectady
It is an exciting time in Schenectady, New York. Emerging smart city technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way Schenectady conducts its operations and the way it brings services to its citizens and visitors.

“Smart” in this context means gathering and using complex data streams to make city operations much more productive and the city environment more livable, workable, and sustainable. Some early applications of this technology replaced city lights with highly efficient LED systems. This yields significant, immediate energy cost savings. At the same time that lights are replaced, light poles can be retrofitted with a variety of sensors that connect with each other through mesh network techniques and ultimately to the Internet and cloud storage for processing.

Wi-Fi or other telecommunication capabilities can be added to provide citywide Internet access for residents at all income levels. All of this can complement advanced information technology systems and applications for productive integration of a multiplicity of city systems.

Mayor Gary McCarthy has positioned Schenectady to lead in the application and development of smart technologies, and he has created a Smart City Commission to advise him on these technologies. Commission members are leaders in diverse areas, including technology, education, arts, media, project management, and government.

Schenectady has already built out two areas with prototype systems and is pursuing other sites for further development. Multiple big-company vendors are engaged, while smaller-company and academic partners are being solicited to build applications on top of the hardware and software platforms that will be built.

An innovation center is being developed in the heart of the city to encourage inventors to participate. Events expose innovators to city systems so that their work can be properly focused on city needs. The goal is to build a citywide system that will enable all to take exciting new approaches to building. The city is thus a laboratory for innovators to develop applications for the city, the state, and the world.

Our vision is to enhance life in the city in many ways:
  • Internet access for all and in all places: The divide that currently separates socioeconomic groups’ access to information could be bridged, and limitations on Internet connectivity in certain areas of the city could be eliminated.
  • Efficient transportation and parking: Data on public and private traffic flows could be used to minimize congestion, reduce accidents, make parking easier, and make management of parking fees more effective.
  • Enhanced public safety: Widespread sensing would allow for faster responses to fires and crime, with significant potential for saving lives and property. Disaster alerts could be spread quickly, and predictive analytics could be used to avoid issues before they occur. Code issues could be quickly identified and addressed.
  • Effective waste and water management: Monitoring of the volume, types, and location of waste and tracking pickup activity could lead to cost-effective solutions for waste handling. Monitoring water quality and the state of water infrastructure could pay significant dividends in the avoidance of service interruptions and costly emergency repairs.
  • Energy efficiency: Emerging distributed generation such as private and commercial solar can be best handled with widespread sensing and smart control systems. Municipal and commercial buildings could be outfitted and controlled more effectively with significant reductions in energy usage.
  • Health and human services: Applications for remote health monitoring and for providing medical reminders to patients show significant promise. Effective responses to emergency issues and avoidance of inappropriate use of emergency systems could significant increase patient safety and yield cost benefits. Providing input and feedback through the Internet has been shown to deliver enriched educational experiences.
  • An engaged citizenry: Access to new levels of data about the city could be used to more effectively engage the public in improving the city and holding an informed debate about the future of the city.
It will be exciting to watch the progress as Schenectady drives to become a smart city. We hope to learn from the experiences of others who have gone before and we will be delighted to share our learnings as we strive for smart city innovation.