The Sensing City: Sensors To Track How Our Cities Really Work

Sensing City

As the $30 billion rebuild of Christchurch continues, a technology expert has visions that would see the city’s CBD fitted with a comprehensive network of sensors to provide real-time information on how the city works and provide more cost effective management of public infrastructure.

Roger Dennis, the man behind the ‘Sensing City’ concept, has been working since May 2012 to engage stakeholders, test the idea and gauge international support. Dennis is based in Christchurch and works around the world with organisations to link futures thinking with strategic innovation.

Dennis says that the idea is “capable of propelling Christchurch to world relevance and leadership” and would bring a number of benefits to the city, including monitored and managed liveability metrics to enable the development of informed planning decisions; real-time, dynamic transport management; and the creation of a sustainable city that measures and manages environmental impact, from knowing about more about pollution to helping them be more energy efficient.

Dennis adds that what is innovative is not the technology itself but how it will be used. It will be integrated at a scale that is unique and within an enterprise architecture that enables multiple data sets to be integrated and turned into novel information, services and products to provide a wide array of benefits.

Sensors would be installed in public infrastructure, buildings and spaces and in private sources where the owners have signed up.

There are three core concepts Dennis says are needed for his vision to work.

First, the data must be open, meaning that the same data that is available to the City Council will also be available to the public. This creates total transparency and builds an innovation ecosystem where a two-person start up company has the same access to the data as a multi-national corporation.

Roger Dennis

MAKING SENSE: Roger Dennis, the man behind The Sensing City concept, with a sensor-controlled pedestrian crossing on the intersection of Hagley Ave and Oxford Tce. Photo: JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ

Second, individuals will not be tracked. There is more value in tracking flows of things across the city (water, traffic etc) than tracking individuals. Arguably, the technology to track an individual is already widely accepted by society, the majority of the population owning cell phones.

Third, everything must be measured. The real value of the concept is reached when anything that can be measured is actually measured. The value of measuring a certain variable may not be fully understood at the implementation stage, but is likely to be discovered at a later date from an unexpected source.

Dennis said underground sensors would also measure movement, so if there were another earthquake, the Christchurch City Council would immediately know whether underground infrastructure had sustained damage.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority has confirmed it has been in discussion with Dennis and he says senior Government ministers have also backed the idea.

Dennis hopes the first stage of the Sensing City will be launched in October when a team will install sensors under roads in the central city as the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team carries out repairs.

The first stage would cost about $1.2 million and would be funded by national and international companies, including New Zealand-based infrastructure investment company Infratil.

Once sensors are in the ground and a small team of staff is on board, Dennis said the next phase, expected to cost about $5 million, would involve approaching multinational companies such as Intel and Cisco.

By Justin McGar
Top Image Source: Sensing City
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