Robert Lamb/Unsplash

Robert Lamb/Unsplash

San Diego is rolling out the largest city-based Internet of Things (IoT) network in the world, with deployment 3,200 smart sensors to upgrade the city’s infrastructure and enhance the quality of life for residents, announced San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer at a press conference.

The city is partnering with GE and will deploy its digital engine for intelligent environments called “Current” and replace 14,000 streetlights with energy-efficient LED versions, reducing the cost for energy by 60 percent, light pollution and overall greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). A portion of the city’s traffic-light system, 3,200 lights, will have sensors connected to a digital network that can optimize parking and traffic, enhance public safety and track air quality.

This digital streetlight network may be doubled in the future, according to David Graham, deputy chief operating officer for the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services, who was a speaker at a ULI San Diego-Tijuana breakfast program on January 14, “Riding the Wave of Disruptive Technology.”  He noted that 3,200 streetlights have already been replaced with LED lights and computerized to optimize traffic flow during rush hour. With the additional upgrades to LED, there will be a total of 20,000 LED streetlights, covering 160 miles of city streets.

The ULI breakfast program, which was moderated by Heather Foley, executive director of San Diego ULI-TJ, brought Graham together with other local leaders in Smart City technology to discuss how the city is applying IoT technologies to advance the city’s Climate Action Plan goals, improve quality of life all residents, and accommodate future growth.

“Our municipality has assets no one else has,” remarked David Graham, deputy chief operating officer for the city’s Office of Neighborhood Services. “We were very inefficient, but we are turning inefficiency into excellence. We approach everything as a platform, so we’re not just solving one thing, but creating a platform for various uses,” he explained. Graham suggested thinking of the city’s digital platform as a sandbox of innovation that enables integration of new and different types of disruptive technologies as software becomes available.

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Panelist in the ULI San Diego-Tijuana program, “Riding the Wave of Disruptive Technology,” Jason Anderson, president and CEO of Cleantech; Nancy Sanquist, vice president at Planon; David Graham, deputy chief operating officer of the City of San Diego; and Heather Foley, ULI executive director for San Diego-Tijuana. (Patricia Kirk)

He noted, however, that the city’s ability to roll out smart technology depends on the public’s buy-in. “If people aren’t brought within the organization or the community, then we will have resistance, and we won’t be able to deploy as much as fast or as broadly,” he said. “If we forget about people when it comes to smart cities, then we will have forgotten about why we did all this.”

The city has its fingers in a number of “internet of things” (IoT) projects, but the largest internal project is converting traffic lights to light-emitting diode (LED) lights and computerizing them to facilitate improved traffic flow during rush hour or other heavy traffic times on major streets. Lights on major thoroughfares are programmed to stay green longer during peak travel times. Graham reported that 160 miles (257 km) of surface streets with 75,000 traffic lights have been converted so far, saving the city $3 million annually in energy costs.

He noted that computerizing infrastructure is generating great quantities of data to use in a real-time way. For example, new sensors in traffic lights will be able to adjust traffic lights automatically, rather than city workers having to physically adjust times on red and green lights.

Other sensors will make it easier to find parking spaces and to access transportation options, including rapid bus service, the trolley, and free shuttles like FRED (free ride everywhere downtown).

The network’s 3,200 smart nodes use real-time anonymous sensor data to do things, such as direct drivers to open parking spaces, help first responders during emergencies, track carbon emissions and identify intersections that can be improved for pedestrians and cyclists. Information collected will support San Diego’s “Vision Zero” strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

Adaptive controls reduce environmental impacts by providing the ability to further dim the lights on fixtures remotely, based on need or situation, and lumen maintenance capabilities, saving additional energy and the life of the fixture. The Adaptive Control System is an advanced SDG&E approved “meter” that captures real time interval data, monitoring and notifications for maintenance purposes and also provides GPS coordinates at each fixture. Over the life of each fixture the system automatically ramps up power as needed to meet specified lighting standards.

The network can be expanded to another 3,000 points in the future. The sensors generate anonymous information that can be used by developers to create apps and software that benefit the community.

Additionally, the emergence of new technology that heat maps people’s locations could be used to determine where there are the most people are gathered and direct more frequent transportation resources to where the need is greatest.

In addition, the emergence of new technology that heat-maps people’s locations could be used to determine where the most people are gathered and direct more frequent transportation resources to where the need is greatest.

When a member of the audience asked if this technology would also be used to track movements of residents, Jason Anderson, president/CEO of Cleantech San Diego, pointed out how much information people are already willing to share online and with supermarkets and other retailers to get discounts on products.

Graham suggested that access to consumer data could help the city to better manage its assets. For instance, understanding consumer preferences could be useful to parks and recreation staff in determining the types of classes and other activities that would attract the most participants.

This open platform is also enabling the city to develop a model cyber-security network that can be integrated with networks of the city’s cyber partners, including local universities and businesses, to create a safe, secure city-wide network capable of exchanging data, said Anderson. He noted that adoption and mobilization of technology have both accelerated, but as it relates to security, “We will not get to zero risk.”

When a member of the audience asked about the impact that robots will have on the future, Nancy Sanquist, vice president of Global Strategic Marketing for software developer Planon, suggested, “It isn’t that robots will necessarily take over, but that we will have to work with robots.” She cited a hospital in Scotland that uses robots to transport supplies from storage in the basement to the upper levels.

Relay Robot, is an artificial intelligence product of developer Savioke, which is being deployed at a new Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott in San Marcos to provide guest services and save labor costs. (Savioke)

Relay Robot, is an artificial intelligence product of developer Savioke, which is being deployed at a new Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott in San Marcos to provide guest services and save labor costs. (Savioke)

Local hotel developer Robert Rauch had a similar idea and is deploying a guest-services robot to deliver immediate customer service at his new limited-service hotel, the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott, opening in March 2017 in San Marcos, California.

Noting that new development projects must comply with the city’s Climate Action Plan, Graham said, “ROI is no longer justification for a project. GHG [greenhouse gas emission] reduction is of overall importance to the bottom line, and developers have to come in with alternative financing to pay for it.”

The panelists also pointed out that forward-thinking cities throughout the region are implementing new technologies to achieve sustainable and quality-of-life goals similar to San Diego’s. Anderson noted, in fact, that a smart cities conference in Santa Clara in May will showcase both San Diego and Chula Vista projects.

Chula Vista’s Bayfront Master Plan is the largest waterfront development opportunity on the West Coast, and the city and Port of San Diego have set significant sustainability goals for this project. Cleantech is playing a key role in bringing the latest technology to this Smart Cities San Diego project to maximize energy efficiency and sustainable outcomes.

When moderator Heather Foley, executive director of ULI San Diego/Tijuana, asked panelists what they fear the most, what keeps them up at night, Sanquist pointed out, “It’s harder and harder, particularly for those of us looking into the future, to have a clue what’s going to happen. What scares me most is what I don’t know.”

The Pacifica project is part of Chula Vista’s 535-acre master-planned live-work-play community and tourist destination on waterfront on the San Diego Bay. This project will provide up to 1,500 residential units with 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail, a 250-room hotel, and 420,000 square feet of office space. (Port of San Diego/Chula Vista)

The Pacifica project is part of Chula Vista’s 535-acre master-planned live-work-play community and tourist destination on waterfront on the San Diego Bay. This project will provide up to 1,500 residential units with 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail, a 250-room hotel, and 420,000 square feet of office space. (Port of San Diego/Chula Vista)