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San Diego is Investing $30 Million to Become a Smart City

Streetlight sensors could eventually help drivers stay aware of pedestrians and cyclists.

We’ve been talking a bit about 5G networks lately, especially about how 5G isn’t just about increased network speeds. The new bands being put in use will support the billions of new devices that need to be connected to data networks, particularly cars, drones, and smart home devices. But, to get things like self-driving cars and delivery drones working properly from city to city, it won’t just take a bigger, better network — it’ll take smarter cities, too. San Diego has just put down the cash to become one of the first true smart cities in the United States.

San Diego will largely be working with GE, AT&T, and Intel to make the project happen. Central to the project is GE’s Current platform, which serves as an analytics dashboard. What’s being analyzed? That would be the 3,200 smart sensors that will be installed in the city’s street lights, which will be installed gradually as the city replaces existing street lights with more efficient LED lights (also from GE). Per the press release, GE and San Diego “will install 14,000 new LED fixtures across the city, which is expected to save San Diego an estimated $2.4 million per year in energy costs.”

The sensors, which will include motion detectors, cameras, and microphones, aren’t necessarily going to become the bedrock of a super-surveillance state (we hope). At least from GE, the intentions are good — for one among many examples, the sensors will eventually be able to detect the movement of cyclists and pedestrians in the city, information that can be sent to connected cars to help prevent accidents.

There will also be opportunities for third party companies to build useful apps for smart cities like San Diego. Two early partners are ShotSpotter and CivicSmart. ShotSpotter can be used to aid police departments by pinpointing gunshots, while CivicSmart can help identify empty street parking spaces. The latter brings to mind MonkeyParking, a 2013 app where users could sell street parking, but since then many major cities have banned such apps. The end result of CivicSmart would be more like having one of those parking lot counters you see outside parking garages, but for the whole city — seems worthwhile! If they can figure out a way to stop people from taking up two street parking spots with bad parallel parking, even better!

San Diego won’t be going in blind. They ran a pilot program with GE Current last year, along with Jacksonville, Florida. It seems San Diego liked what they saw, because they’re now working on bringing the sensors citywide. Once the sensors have been installed, they’ll be connected to AT&T’s LTE network — and presumably to their 5G network, once that’s been rolled out. We probably won’t see too many transformative ideas out of the smart city movement until then, but once the 5G era does start, San Diego will be best positioned to take advantage of it.