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Municipalities harness the power of connectivity to improve lives

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By Roy Furchgott
Photos by Jeremy Cliff

Las nuevas tecnologías van cambiando el mundo minuto a minuto. Con características como una conectividad de avanzada, el totalmente nuevo Cruze Hatch 2017 es una opción natural para el conductor citadino moderno.

Read the full article from New Roads magazine below:

Braininess is often a matter of degrees. A cell-phone can make calls without a wired connection, but it takes a smartphone to keep you connected with Facebook. A smartwatch a tells time and checks your email. Your thermostat will tell you the temperature in your house; smart thermostats know to flick on the air conditioning when you're coming home. Now, smart suitcases will accommodate your belongings and transmit their location if they are MIA at baggage claim.

How long before the communities where we live achieve those levels of brilliance? With wireless broadband internet increasingly available, what will the ever-connected and app-friendly city be like?

“At the very, very simple level, a smart city uses technology to improve community life,” said Jesse Berst, chairman of the Smart Cities Council, which aims to accelerate smart city development.

And to paraphrase the wording on the outside rearview mirror of your new Chevrolet, they're closer than it would appear. Smart cities may not be arriving at the pace promised by science fiction novels, but the pieces-internet connectivity, networked sensors, adaptive apps-are falling into place.

“In general, lots of places call themselves smart cities, but really a lot of what we have are islands of success,” said David Corman, program director at the National Science Foundation.

Smart cities are engineered to eliminate everyday annoyances for all inhabitants, but often the benefits are invisible. And the leaps toward the future aren't all happening in high-tech centers.



The first clue that a place has achieved Einstein status may come during a power outage.

What happened one January evening in 2013 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, offers a perfect example. At 6:31, a tree fell, shorting out a power line and cutting off electricity to 11,258 homes.

Power outages are a problem that affect most Americans and cost businesses hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Ordinarily, the utility company wouldn't know about the outage until calls came in and bucket trucks were dispatched to hunt for the trouble spot. Then, linemen would drive the miles of poles, painstakingly opening and closing switches by hand and rerouting electricity to restore power where possible. Typically, it took hours.

But by 2013, the Chattanooga power grid was far from typical. The Electric Power Board of Chattanooga had built a "smart grid," pairing high-speed fiber-optic internet with electrical lines and automated switches that speak to one another-and to the control center-over the internet.

That winter night, it took less than 45 seconds for the system to recognize the outage and reroute power to about 10,800 homes and businesses. A dispatcher in the Power Board's control center typed a few computer commands to switches that weren't yet automated, restoring power to the remaining places in just over six minutes. The disruption was barely noticed by most residents.



A lot has to happen to create a smart city. "There are three core activities: collect, communicate and crunch," Berst said.

To collect data, cities are experimenting with different kinds of sensors. One of the more ambitious plans is Chicago's Array of Things project, funded with a $3 million NSF grant, which proposes to put 500 sensor nodes throughout the city. The nodes use enclosures designed by Douglas Pancoast, an associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Satya Mark Basu, architectural designer at Gensler.

The nodes measure a variety of conditions, including heat, vibration, air quality, sound and precipitation. In theory, they could warn joggers where air quality was poor or find the most populated walking route late at night. It's like a wearable fitness tracker for a city.

A large part of the Array of Things design process was about placement. Should they be hidden or visible? The location requires electricity and needs to be close to the height of people to accurately reflect conditions that people are exposed to. The eventual winner was light poles.

“For our project, it quickly became obvious that it would be visible, branded and ubiquitous,” said Basu.

The first version of the enclosure is a pretty straightforward louvered box. Future versions will have colored lighting, either through the louvers or on a translucent shield that will indicate some condition-such as red for poor air quality. "This is just one step on the way to the next version, which will have some light messaging," said Basu. "And it will be a little bit more elegant and holistic."



Smart trash cans won't be gleaming showcases of refuse containment with the chirping charm of a sci-fi robot companion, but more like the unassuming barrels made by Bigbelly, a Needham, Massachusetts, company. The trash cans compact refuse, run on solar power and happen to let the Department of Sanitation know when they need to be emptied, saving on fuel and manpower.

Connected and self-aware, they efficiently eliminate unnecessary visits by the garbage truck, at the same time preventing the stinky overflow when their capacity has been breached. Utilitarian in every way, the only visible clue to the brainy nature of a smart trash can like those from Bigbelly is the solar panel on top that powers its electronics.

The data from the cans also let them predict in advance when pickups will be needed. That covers Berst's three core activities of collect, communicate and crunch. In addition, Wi-Fi extenders can be added to the cans-also solar-powered-that can increase the reach of free Wi- Fi in the area. New York City now has Bigbelly smart cans in 174 locations.

Under-the-radar indicators like smart trash cans contradict the city of the future portrayed in films and on television, places with fanciful clichés like flying cars, apartments floating in the clouds and enlightened residents whooshing to work through pneumatic tubes. The reality in our increasingly urban world will have more to do with the linking of sensors, networks and the gathering of Big Data in order to make day-to-day tasks easier or more efficient.



Highly personalized, on-demand mobility services are likely to gain wider use and acceptance in connected cities. Maven, a new car-sharing brand, quickly surpassed 6.9 million miles driven since debuting last winter. Maven is now live in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Customers use the Maven app to search for and reserve a vehicle by location or car type and unlock it with their smartphone. They can integrate their smartphone with the vehicle to bring their digital lives with them, including contacts and favorites, through Apple CarPlay,™ Android Auto,™ OnStar, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and 4G LTE wireless connectivity.



Crunching data is where the real magic happens. Artificial intelligence programs can forecast future conditions, a power that Los Angeles-based PredPol uses for predictive policing.

The company's computer program predicts where crimes are most likely to occur 8 to 10 hours in the future so police can concentrate patrols where needed. During the initial four months of testing, crimes were down 13 percent in the PredPol areas, compared with a 0.4 percent increase in the rest of Los Angeles. PredPol is now in about 60 cities, including Atlanta and Reading, Pennsylvania.



“When cities move from collecting data to acting on data is when the biggest changes for people will occur,” says Dr. Cindy Frewen, an urban futurist and architect whose practice is based in Kansas City. “Using systems that react based on that data makes the city itself a more responsive place.”

But even when fully outfitted with other niceties, like parking meters that alert drivers to open spots and traffic lights that adjust minute to minute to keep cars flowing, the city of the future probably won't look much different than it does today. But it will certainly function differently, with the technology and automation focused more on improving our daily lives than on creating futuristic-looking sci-fi landscapes.




Available built-in OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi can connect up to seven devices.

Standard 1.4L turbo engine with direct injection and stop/start technology makes Cruze Hatch fun to drive and efficient.

Available active safety features like Lane Keep Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Park Assist scan the road to help avoid potential collisions.

Las funciones de seguridad no sustituyen el proceder seguro del conductor ante el volante. El conductor debe estar atento al tráfico, al entorno y a las condiciones del camino en todo momento. Lee el manual del propietario del vehículo para obtener importante información y limitaciones de las funciones.

Generous rear cargo space, sleek curves and sporty accents all convey a spirit of adventure.

Available support for Apple CarPlayTM† and Android AutoTM† allows you to smartly and easily interact with certain features of your smartphone through the Chevrolet MyLink display.


  • 1 Vehicle UI Las interfaces para usuarios de vehículos son productos de Apple y Google, y se aplican sus términos y declaraciones de privacidad. Requiere smartphone compatible y se aplican cargos de tu plan de datos. Android Auto es una marca comercial de Google, Inc.
  • 2 Bluetooth Funcionalidad total con un smartphone y Bluetooth compatibles, y conexión USB para algunos dispositivos.
  • 3 OnStar Requiere dispositivo móvil compatible, servicio activo de OnStar y plan de datos. El servicio 4G LTE se encuentra disponible en ciertos mercados. Visita OnStar.com para ver mapas de cobertura, detalles y limitaciones del sistema. Plan de datos suministrado por AT&T.

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