New York gets smarter, one tech trial at a time

Wi-Fi kiosks, smart park benches and sensors that detect gunshots are just a few of the technologies the Big Apple has on tap.

By Matt Hamblen
Jan. 10, 2017

Smart park benches

One of the more charming uses of smart tech in New York is being tested with several park benches installed in High Bridge Park at 175th and Amsterdam in Manhattan. The solar-powered benches, designed by Soofa, a startup with connections to the MIT Media Lab, allow park visitors to charge a smartphone or other device while resting, socializing or sunbathing.

soofa smart city bench  

The Soofa smart park bench.

The smart benches also allow park officials to count Wi-Fi-enabled devices as they pass by, which allows them to estimate foot traffic and in turn determine if more security or trash removal might be needed in an area of a park.

Assuaging citizen concerns, the Soofa pilot incorporates a set of internet of things guidelines created by the city which govern privacy and security concerns for new devices.

Faster bus rides

Meanwhile, for frantic commuters, New York is testing smart bus technology to speed up their rides. The Traffic Signal Priority project, along a bus line in busy lower Manhattan, allows buses equipped with GPS to connect into the existing traffic signal control network. When a bus is stopped for a red light, for example, the system can shorten the amount of time the light is red to allow the bus to move ahead, or the system can extend the green time for an approaching bus.

The technology, first piloted in 2012, appears to be taking hold. Results from 2016 showed a savings in bus commute time of up to 20%, and as of January 2017, the city has four bus corridors equipped with the prioritization technology, according to a New York City Department of Transportation spokeswoman. An additional three corridors are under study, and six more are being considered for future operations, she adds. 

The system also could help reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles on the city's congested streets, according to Doug Newcomb, an analyst and president of C3 Group. Since New York has more than 5,700 buses operating 2,800 miles of routes used for 2.5 million bus rides every day, a 20% savings over an expanded base of riders could make a significant dent in congestion.

What's more, in perhaps a decade, many cities like New York could be deploying high-occupancy driverless buses along those same routes, further reducing congestion, Newcomb says.

Identifying individual gunshots

One of New York's more unusual and recent tech projects is designed to help fight crime. ShotSpotter relies on sophisticated rooftop listening sensors and software to identify the acoustic fingerprint of gunfire. (A 2015 city document, Building a Smart + Equitable City, describes the project on page 18.)

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