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San Diego: Creating a scalable smart city

Sarah Wray talks to Austin Ashe, General Manager of Intelligent Cities at Current by GE.

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Austin Ashe, General Manager of Intelligent Cities at Current by GE
Austin Ashe, General Manager of Intelligent Cities at Current by GE

This article is in association with Current by GE.

 

San Diego is transforming its street lighting into a connected digital infrastructure with Current’s CityIQ platform. Sensors will collect real-time data across the city that can be used to develop applications to benefit the community – from directing drivers to open parking spaces to helping first responders during an emergency.

 

Austin Ashe, General Manager of Intelligent Cities at Current by GE, tells SmartCitiesWorld more about this ground-breaking initiative.

 

SCW: How did the project with the City of San Diego come about?

 

AA: San Diego has always been a city that truly embraces innovation. It is now taking the opportunity to be at the forefront of new technologies. When we came to them with this concept, they were in the middle of their LED streetlight conversion. They asked whether there was a way to build a programme around deploying the lights and smart city technology simultaneously. The full sensor platform will be deployed by the end of this year.

 

"San Diego has always been a city that truly embraces innovation. It is now taking the opportunity to be at the forefront of new technologies."

SCW: How can cities finance a project like this?

 

AA: In San Diego, the entire $30 million GE Capital financing was covered by energy savings from the LED retrofit, so there was no outlay up-front. Further, energy savings from the LEDs are higher than the finance payment each month, so they’re cash-flow-positive.

 

SCW: Are there any key takeaways from this pioneering project so far?

 

AA: Neither GE or San Diego can do this on their own. It really does require an ecosystem to make this successful.

 

We partnered with Intel for our edge compute and analytics framework. There is an Intel Atom processor inside each sensor unit. This provides us with computing power as well as security on the edge. It also enables the framework to be updated over the internet, much like a smartphone upgrade.

 

As cities want new use cases, we can evolve the sensor capabilities to do more and more. Connectivity is also key. When it comes to IoT, you can have the best software in the world, but if you don’t have secure, reliable connectivity, you don’t have an IoT platform.

 

So, we are also working with AT&T. AT&T is investing billions of dollars in its network infrastructure and is a thought leader in the smart city space.

 

Not only is AT&T investing in LTE, 5G and all the network capabilities of the future, but they are also deploying the FirstNet network across the country, specifically for first responders. We’re proud to partner with a company that does that. There is an AT&T SIM card in each of our nodes that’s transmitting the data via LTE, and we will be working with AT&T to evolve the platform to be on FirstNet eventually.

 

SCW: What do you see as the key opportunities for San Diego in deploying CityIQ?

 

AA: Departments across the city will be able to leverage dense, rich, valuable data like never before. This will help them understand what the greatest value use cases are and to prioritise applications.

 

Also, it will be fascinating to see what the local development community comes up with when the data is opened to them, and what kind of apps will be built, deployed and then shared across other cities.

 

I’m excited to see the new citizen services, and about the opportunity for us to change even one person’s life and make the city more liveable, workable and playable.

 

There are a lot of cities that talk about this, and there are a lot of cities that have done some projects but no one’s ever done it at this scale, across this many datasets, and with as many sensors.

 

Really, though, it’s about seeing a real smart city come to life. There are a lot of cities that talk about this, and there are a lot of cities that have done some projects but no one’s ever done it at this scale, across this many datasets, and with as many sensors. It is a first, and there are a lot of learnings to come.

 

SCW: Looking further out, how could a project like this scale?

 

AA: We are at a unique time to see smart city adoption take hold. Phase one is simply extracting data that never existed before and applying it in real-time and historical use cases. San Diego has done that, and I believe we are going to see that more.

 

Phase two is the world of apps. Just like on our smartphones, in smart cities you’re going to see an extraordinary abundance of applications built to run smart city solutions and address all kinds of challenges.

 

Then there’s a phase three, not too far down the road, for cities that have the right foundations in place. It’s around the concept of multi-data exchange – instead of the data just going to people who are using the apps, it will also be sent to other pieces of infrastructure or devices directly, such as autonomous cars and drones.

 

There will be an evolution where we start to understand how this data coming off the sensors can accelerate the adoption of autonomous cars, make them safer on the road and ensure they’re complying with regulations, etc. The platform is scalable and extensible for future use cases, so the possibilities are limitless.

 

The platform is scalable and extensible for future use cases, so the possibilities are limitless.

 

San Diego now has the power to unlock the potential of sensor data and use it in ways that we haven’t even dreamed of yet to benefit citizens.

 

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