Digging Into Erie, Pa.'s Smart City Plans
This is what getting smarter could mean for the city of Erie, Pa.
Free high-speed public Wi-Fi might be used to alert citizens in the event of an emergency such as a major snowstorm.
State-of-the-art video surveillance equipment can alert law enforcement to potential threats and could be used to enhance security at city parks, outside schools and near entertainment venues.
New light poles, equipped with energy-efficient LED bulbs, might help significantly reduce city government's energy costs.
And data gleaned from modern traffic signal controls, coupled with information from new parking meter kiosks, could help officials determine the most efficient traffic routes and identify abundant parking during a major city festival or similar large event.
That is the beginning of the potential of what's known as smart-city technology, which the city will test downtown this summer in conjunction with the Erie Innovation District.
Local officials are also confident the project can help forge a new, high-tech industry in Erie that is focused on safety and security.
Mayor Joe Schember and Karl Sanchack, the Innovation District's chief executive, announced a smart city pilot project in April focused on downtown and Perry Square and funded by $300,000 in Erie Innovation District funds.
Smart cities are urban areas that use different forms of electronic data collection, including sensors, to supply information that is then used to efficiently manage assets and resources. Erie's plan aims to drive economic growth while also encouraging partnerships between academia and industry to grow, sustain and attract safety and security businesses.
U.S. cities including Boston, San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., have employed smart technology. Copenhagen, Denmark; Singapore and Stockholm, Sweden, are among the world's leading smart cities, according to Easypark's 2017 Smart Cities Index, which ranks the top 100 smart cities around the world.
"What we're talking about is a smart combination of services," Sanchack said. "That's what we would be trying to get to, more intelligent outcomes that help people and give people a better quality of life.
"There is potential to create an industry and an ecosystem out of this," Sanchack said. "Erie's good for this. We have multiple universities looking to develop cyber capabilities, we have interest, and we have an engaged and highly supportive city administration working with us."
Schember said the plan will help Erie keep pace with cities worldwide that are applying modern technology to fighting crime, traffic congestion, economic development promotion and other areas.
"Everyone is working together to make this happen, and it's really exciting," Schember said.
The Innovation District is overseen by Mercyhurst University and is funded by a $4 million grant provided by the Erie Community Foundation in partnership with the Susan Hirt Hagen Fund for Transformational Philanthropy and the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority.
Quantela Inc., a global data analytics company that has worked on similar projects worldwide, is helping to implement the project.
Erie's plan focuses on the area encompassing State St., between Sixth and 12th streets. Sanchack said the effort should be running by Aug. 1.
The LED lights are planned for 66 existing utility poles downtown. The security/surveillance system would be installed on two poles in Perry Square, which was chosen because it's a high-traffic area that hosts numerous community events, and it can relay real-time information to authorities, such as a suspicious package.
The Wi-Fi system will be put in place at the same time, Sanchack said.
"We're in the process of ordering the equipment now," he said. "We will run the pilot through the end of the year, then evaluate how this looks and what benefit it provided us."
Erie Police Chief Dan Spizarny said additional security cameras in a busy area like Perry Square "as a concept seems to be great. It's a great idea to keep the citizens safe and secure.
"In general, cameras like this greatly assist in the identification and prosecution of criminals," Spizarny said. "They are a valuable investigative tool."
Ray Massing, the Erie Parking Authority's executive director, also embraces the smart-city concept.
The Parking Authority plans to install new parking meter technology as part of widespread upgrades, primarily downtown.
The improvements would include parking kiosks that could accept payments from coins, cash, credit cards or prepaid cards, and one kiosk would cover a number of parking spaces. The improvements also include technology that can send a text message to a person's cellphone if their meter time is running out and more time needs to be purchased.
"I think what we're trying to do and what the Innovation District is trying to do has some definite overlays," Massing said.
"The combination of systems can give us access to much more useful data than we have now. We could use it to do demand-based pricing, or go to certain parking configurations for special events," Massing said. "Unless we go out and physically count cars, we can't really do that right now. This gives us much more sophisticated data to use for our operations."
Sanchack said any "wider rollout" of smart-city technology would depend on funding and extensive discussions with the community about whether expansion makes sense.
Krishna Prasad is a senior director at Quantela. He attended the city's April 19 news conference at which the smart-city program was announced.
Prasad said his company wants to help Erie prepare for "the next evolution of the Internet, (which) is the industrial Internet."
That is largely about creating industries that deal with the development, adoption, and widespread use of interconnected machines and devices.
"Data by itself is useless unless you extract actionable intelligence from data," Prasad said. "That is going to be one of the prime drivers for us in this project."
Sanchack said Quantela will work with entrepreneurs applying to be part of the Innovation District's Secure Erie Accelerator, which is open to start-ups around the world and focuses on data science, safety and cybersecurity. A total of 10 firms will be chosen for the accelerator, and they will participate in a 10-week program in Erie this coming summer.
Asked how he expects the smart city program evolve, Sanchack said: "Someday, can we develop local apps and services for smart features that would be attractive? Could we build some of the hardware for this in Erie? We want to work towards the physical development of a workforce."
Chris Groner, the city's economic development director, would like to see that happen.
"This could be the start of a new industry," Groner said. "And it could be located right here in Erie."
©2018 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.