Intersection

There’s more to Las Vegas’ “smart city” technology than self-driving buses

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Illustration: Corlene Byrd

The machine revolution has already begun. Every time you ask a question of your Amazon Echo or use your phone to adjust your Nest thermostat, you’re mingling with “the Internet of Things,” the network of devices that employ sensors, software and Internet connectivity to do the things you’re unable or unwilling to do yourself.

And it’s not just our homes that are becoming automated—the world outside is following suit. For example: The City of Las Vegas has been testing “smart city” technology in our Downtown “Innovation District” since February 2016, but you probably didn’t realize this until a couple of weeks ago, when a self-driving bus began rolling around Fremont East.

“Smart city” tech is a tough thing to show off, considering it’s designed to be invisible. “You shouldn’t realize it’s there; you should only be aware of the benefits that come from it,” says Michael Sherwood, IT

director for the City of Las Vegas. But that autonomous Navya shuttle—unfairly maligned for “crashing” on its first official day of service, when in fact a human-driven truck backed into it—is only a small part of an ambitious program that might one day regulate the entire Valley’s traffic, pedestrian crossings, parking and more. It can even let maintenance workers know when a trash can is close to overflowing.

Vegas’ Innovation District—mapped out at the innovate.vegas website—is currently testing out technologies that adhere to one or more “pillars,” Sherwood says: “Public safety, economic growth, mobility, education and social benefit—anything that speaks to the problems of homelessness or the digital divide.” Some of the tech comes from well-known companies: T-Mobile has sensors taking environmental measurements along 3rd Street, while Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) tech allows cars to “talk” with Downtown traffic signals, a process Audi has already tested.

But Sherwood says the Innovation District isn’t just a tech industry proving ground; he wants to hear from anyone who has a viable smart city idea. If that sounds like you, contact the City through the Innovate Vegas website. (And you’re invited to use the City’s own data to develop your smart city tech: Visit opendata.lasvegasnevada.gov to see everything from city maps to the fiscal year 2018 city budget.) Yes, the machine revolution is imminent, but there’s no reason we can’t use it to find a parking space.

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