Orlando pushes to be "smart" through sensors

Orlando has a plan to make the city smarter, an effort that will begin in the trash.

Seven sensor-equipped trash compactors to be deployed next month will notify Orlando’s waste-management department when they are more than half full. Fourteen recycling containers with similar sensors will be added later.

Several groups have encouraged local government officials across the U.S. to become “smart cities.” These are areas marked by a heavy use of internet-connected technology to push for more efficient services. For instance, sensors can address water quality, traffic or parking.

“We are asking ourselves what the future looks like, with the onset of technology and cellphones,” said Chris Castro, Orlando’s director of sustainability. “How can we utilize technology and design to enhance the quality of life, the environment, sustainability and make city government more efficient?”

The goal is to collect data that can lead to new technologies that help a city run more efficiently, Castro said. The local effort is a collaboration that includes Central Florida tech companies and other entities, including Lockheed Martin, Harris Corp., NASA, Lynx and University of Central Florida.

Lockheed pointed to two websites that cover technologies they expect to contribute to, including autonomous systems and energy-efficiency efforts. Other agencies declined to detail their involvement.

The BRIDG facility in Kissimmee has positioned itself to be a leading venue for this research, debuting a high-tech 109,000-square-foot building early this year. Sensor-based research has become a hot topic among government officials, BRIDG CEO Chester Kennedy said. “You have a lot more cities and public infrastructures around the world thinking about this problem,” he said. “That brings more ideas to the table for traditional sensors that we need to develop.”

An Orlando group called Tech and Beers, which hosts periodic meetups for the tech community, hosted a “hackathon: Saturday and Sunday during which programmers built products and services that could eventually be adopted by the city. They used data from more than 1,000 sensors Tech and Beers recently distributed throughout the city — at a cost of $20,000 — to measure air quality, pedestrian traffic and other subjects.

“This could create new categories for startups to evolve in,” said Josh Sutton, CEO of data analytics firm Pandera Systems, who helped organize the “hackathon.” “We have really good tech talent here, but we have to point it at solving problems that are good for the community and that can potentially create jobs.”

Orlando is one of five cities chosen to demonstrate “the city of the future” by the Smart Cities Council, one of several groups pushing for greater implementation of sensor-based research into city infrastructure and processes.

Interview via Orlando Sentinel

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