Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer at the City of Kansas City, Mo., said Kansas City has championed itself as a leader in big data and smart city tech for years now.
But now the city is reaching an inflection point to leverage the data at a significant scale, he said.
“The bottom line is that now we are able to go from using data to ease making decision to now using data to help make effective predictions so that the city can be better postured for the future,” Bennett said to a group of leaders Monday at City Hall during the city’s July Smart City Advisory Board meeting.
Making “smart” and future-focused decisions don’t happen overnight. Since the launch of the Smart City initiative in 2016, downtown Kansas City has slowly been transforming into a hotbed of sensor networks and Wi-Fi connectivity on and around the 2.2-mile streetcar line.
The $15.7 million public-private project is a collaboration between Kansas City, Sprint, Cisco and Think Big Partners. Last year, the initiative established 328 WiFi access points, 178 smart lighting video nodes and 25 smart kiosks, laying the foundation on which the city can begin to collect data on downtowners’ behavior.
Bennett said that he believes the city has built a solid foundation of smart city infrastructure. It now allows city leaders to jump in and solve more problems.
“Now the question is how do we prepare for the next six, nine and ten months,” Bennett said. “Once the technology figures out how to measure the heartbeat of the city, then it can be shown in the data where that heartbeat is showing arrhythmia. If you can figure that out, you can get your cardiologist involved earlier rather than later.”
Here are more updates on the Smart City:
The Think Big-led Living Lab
One entrepreneurial component of the Smart City initiative is its “Living Lab,” a platform in which innovators can create solutions within the smart city framework.
The goal of Living Lab is two-fold. One, to attract new solutions to persistent city problems, and two, to be able to test and commercialize technology that is of civic interest.
Herb Sih, managing partner at Think Big Partners, said that this platform will come to fruition this summer. Soon, local and national tech firms can use Kansas City as a testbed for smart city applications.
“I’m really proud of how Kansas City has come together to collaborate on this project,” Sih said. “We see other cities that are far less collaborative.”
Sih said that the Living Lab is also an economic development initiative and will attract companies from all over the world. Specific areas of focus for its first year will be transportation, public safety, infrastructure, water and energy, he added.
American Public Television may feature KC Smart City
Sih said that national broadcaster American Public Television may produce a feature story on Kansas City’s Smart City. The 48-minute episode would showcase Kansas City’s smart city infrastructure on more than 200 public television stations.
“Hopefully this will be a good opportunity to be able to activate Kansas City and our efforts,” he said. “They’re really putting together a mosaic.”
Sensors’ cost reduction
Bennett said that the city has determined how to “significantly reduce the costs” of the downtown sensors. Beginning this summer, the city will pilot technology that will transform the city’s existing traffic cameras into sensors themselves for the Smart City.
Bennett said the value of the cost savings will depend on what software vendor it chooses, but added the move will eliminate the need for Kansas City to purchase new sensors.
“The analytics will be placed upon the video that the city is already receiving and will give us the same parking and traffic data as the other sensors,” Bennett said. “We are in final discussion with two different firms that can provide this, but we will soon be able to extend the sensor platform throughout the city at a much less expensive proposition.”
Voice search is coming to the 25 downtown Kansas City Citypost kiosks. The kiosks offer passersby such information as events, restaurants, weather, real-time Smart City data and more information.
“Soon enough, people can ask (the kiosks) where the closest Japanese restaurant is from where they’re standing,” said Mike Mainthow, CMO at Smart City Media.
Mainthow added that kiosk advertising sales are climbing, and they are seeing an uptick in proposal requests from bigger brands. Almost a year since they were installed throughout downtown Kansas City, the kiosks have seen about 200,000 user interactions thus far.
Citypost is experimenting with new features to increase pedestrian engagement, such as games and selfie capabilities. The kiosks have also partnered with small businesses who can post messages on the kiosks in real time.