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June 26, 2015

Future of Connected Cities on Display in L.A.

Cities are sitting on mounds of data generated by everything from parking meters to traffic lights to water meters, but they’re having difficulty harnessing that data effectively. As the big data and Internet of Things (IoT) trends evolve, we’ll see cities competing with one another to use data to serve citizens, and that’s where vendors like Los Angeles-based Civic Resource Group International are hoping to step in.

Yesterday in downtown LA, CRGI showcased what the future of a connected city might look like. About 70 attendees packed into the Vortex Dome at LA Studios to take in a demo of its CRGI’s new Civic Augmented Reality (CivicAR) product, which is essentially a mobile app that extends its Civic Connect suite of software into the real world.

The app enables citizens who wield carry-able or wearable devices to interact with government services and data in new and potential impactful ways. For example, instead of using a website to look up the bus schedule for L.A. Metro, a prospective bus passenger merely points her phone at a bus sign, and the connected app automatically pulls up the schedule from a database.


Images courtesy CRGI

As CRGI founder and CEO Dr. Gregory Curtin explained, it’s all about connecting sources of public data with the people who can use it. “This is a real opportunity to bring new technology to bear, in a meaningful and impactful area: the public sector,” Curtin said during his 30-minute demo. “That’s the beauty of this augmented reality: It’s visual and contextual based. It’s doing everything the way we live our lives.”

A visitor to iconic Griffith Park, meanwhile, could use the app to access 360-degree views of the park, or pull up a nature guide or map by pointing their GPS- and camera-enabled smart phone or wearable at a sign. If the visitor happened to encounter a leaking water fixture, they could easily geo-tag it and send an alert to the city.

There are commercial applications too. For example, a consumer could use their device to spot deals on food or beverages. There is also a leisure angle to this, such as delivering 360-degree views of specific spots in campgrounds or views of hotel rooms that are part of economic development programs.

“It’s tying together all these real-world experiences, how people actually live their lives and walk through the world. Grab that tourist coming off the plane to book a stay in this new downtown LA hotel right away,” Curtin said. “Imagine as we start to put together these consumer-facing user experiences with the actual business processes, workflow processes that make our smart city work. That starts to become the power of this new technology.”

A lot of this smart city potential hinges on data availability. That ball is already rolling in the City of L.A., which recently launched its open data initiative. Many other cities are doing the same, including San Francisco and Austin, Texas, which is also adopting CRGI’s technology.


The City of San Diego is using CRGI software to analyze satellite imagery to assess progress in water conservation

While this sort of smart city may seem like science fiction, Curtin stressed that all of this technology is available for deployment now. One of CRGI’s most visible clients is the City of San Diego, which uses various CRGI’s Civic Connect products to manage parking and water usage, among other government-related services.

Most public parking lots have already been instrumented with sensors necessary to detect the presence of cars in parking lots, and many private lots are starting to share that data too. The day is foreseeable when the city might use this data to optimize parking enforcement activities in the lots and street-side parking spaces that it owns.

In terms of water–which is arguably a much bigger deal considering the extreme drought conditions across the state and the mandatory water reductions currently in place–CRGI is helping San Diego utilize satellite imagery to determine the relative water content of vegetation. That information is used to gauge to what extent city residents have cut water usage, and how much more water might be saved going forward.

CRGI founder and CEO Dr. Gregory Curtin running the demo at the Vortex Dome.

CRGI founder and CEO Dr. Gregory Curtin running the demo at the Vortex Dome.

While these sorts of data-driven services are fairly common in the private sector–think of how easy it is to get a ride through Uber or get a room via Airbnb–they are still relatively new in the public sector. But local governments also the potential to impact citizens lives in a positive way by harnessing new and existing data sources.

The whole “smart city” concept may seem like science fiction, but thanks to CRGI and others, it’s becoming more real every day.

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