Las Vegas sees smart city tech as a business lure

Matt Hamblen

Las Vegas

Las Vegas city officials described a variety of smart city technology rollouts on Tuesday in a bid heavily focused on attracting new businesses to the downtown.

“Everybody loves Vegas but we want you to stay here,” said Michael Lee Sherwood, director of information technologies for the city.

He laid out a network of recently-deployed traffic sensors and video cameras that are focused on improving the city’s economy, mobility, public safety and public education. Recently, the city installed traffic and related sensors at 12 intersections, a number that could grow to 70 intersections in three years. The city announced Cisco as its principle smart city technology partner last July.

The affected intersections are in what’s called the Innovation District at the core of the downtown, which is many blocks north of the closest portion of the famous Vegas Strip. Sherwood said he hopes the technology moves will inspire businesses to open on vacant land directly opposite the city’s futuristic City Hall.

One example of how the video sensors might be used is to watch pedestrians as they cross intersections or even mid-block. With data gathered from the sensors, police and city planners will be able to detect accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles, which are already documented, in addition to “near-misses,” which aren’t currently documented. If the data shows a preponderance of mid-block jaywalkers, it might lead to creation of a mid-block crosswalk to enhance safety.

Sherwood didn’t say how much the improvements have cost, but predicted the city’s investment will be cost-neutral. In one example, he said cameras might show a scant number of pedestrians ever walk in one area, which might direct the city to remove trash bins there. Doing away with unneeded trash bins would mean crews didn’t need to drive to them to them every day unnecessarily.

On Tuesday, Vegas got a heavy rainfall, leading to some minor street flooding. In the future, street flooding can be detected with the city’s new LIDAR and camera detection. Then, software could direct that kind of information to police to move quickly to shut down streets or aid stranded drivers.

Cisco officials said they are  working with Vegas to aggregate data being sent wirelessly via DSRC (Dedicated Short-Range Communications) by certain vehicles (Tesla and others) when they send out certain distress signals. For instance, if a vehicle’s air bag is deployed, it could activate an immediate response by police. Sherwood said that data from vehicles has already resulted in several emergency responses to drivers needing assistance.

The city is also monitoring air quality with new sensors and will be able to use that data as economic development tool, Sherwood said. “It’s real-time info and we’ll be able to say we’ve had 150 days of beautiful air, to compare with L.A.”

TJ Costello, director of smart cities and IoT for the Cisco in the Americas, said the innovations Las Vegas and Cisco are installing will allow data from cameras to be processed at the edge of the network. Through Cisco’s Kinetic for Cities system and other software, a camera or other sensor can interpret data locally, passing along only the most vital information to reduce the data demand for city planners. That means, for example, when a camera detects an object it will know if the object is a person or something else.

Cisco has worked on deploying smart city technology for more than five years, including with pilots and rollouts in some of the world’s largest cities, including Paris. One early example is Kansas City, Mo., where officials are addressing a broad range of city needs, including to provide mobility in the downtown as it encourages economic growth. Some of the themes in KC are similar to those in Vegas.

“The U.S. has been slow to embrace this smart cities market, but we’ve gone from “What is a smart city and how do we get started?” to “Let’s get going,” Costello said in an interview. “No longer do we have to justify what is a smart city. I’m left with the impression that we’re on the cusp of an amazing journey. There’s an opportunity to see explosive growth and real practical smart city deployments.”

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