New technologies and startup companies offer tremendous benefits to cities by improving operational efficiency and enhancing the quality of life for citizens. Specifically, in the context of the built environment, there are numerous Internet of Things products and services that help cities gain new insights into how citizens use cities in ways never before possible. These insights let cities be more responsive to the needs of their citizens. However, these new technologies also present a novel set of risks that city leaders must manage. Often times the processes cities are required to take to deploy IoT products and services are developed on the fly, in a piecemeal fashion. The City of New York recently took a major step to help cities manage and structure this process in a way that mitigates the risk associated with deploying new technologies.

The Mayor’s Office of Tech + Innovation released its Internet of Things Guidelines to help governments and their partners responsibly deploy connected devices and IoT technologies in a coordinated and consistent manner. To date, more than 20 innovative cities across the country have joined New York City in its effort to create and implement the IoT Guidelines. Soofa’s pilot project with the NYC Parks Department was the City’s first project to test the guidelines. There are five high level guidelines that serve as an important framework for bringing IoT technologies into cities; we’ve outlined these below with examples from our pilot project with the Parks Department. Are you a city leader? Click here to learn how you can adopt the guidelines for your city.

 

Privacy + Transparency | When we use new technologies on city streets and in public spaces, we are committed to being open and transparent about the “who, what, where, when, and why” for any data or information being collected and used. Read more about this guideline.

Directly aligned with Soofa’s mission of putting people first and creating an open platform for civic innovation, the NYC Parks Department pilot project brings the Internet of Things into the pedestrian realm as opposed to being hidden and out of sight. Acting as focal points in numerous locations throughout Highbridge Park, Soofa Benches equipped with Soofa’s activity sensors engage the public by providing free solar powered phone charging, and gather valuable data on park activity for the City and Parks Department. Data collection is made clear through signage and was announced to the public from the onset of the pilot project during the Parks Without Borders Summit hosted in May 2016. Numerous news articles and social media shares also made note of this and engaged the public in the conversation around how the data collected will help make NYC’s parks even more loved.

 

Data Management | Data is the core of any IoT system. We will ensure that IoT and real-time data is captured, stored, verified, and made accessible in ways that maximize public benefit. Read more about this guideline.

Soofa benches collect data on pedestrian activity in Highbridge Park by listening for nearby wifi enabled devices within 30-75 meters of the benches. This data contains no personally identifiable information and is encrypted through an industry leading open source encryption protocol. To see our full privacy policy, please click here. Soofa’s data illuminates usage trends of Highbridge Park, giving the Parks Department novel, real-time insights into how best to program, maintain, and improve the park to best serve local neighbors, New Yorkers, and visitors. The data is a new input into a larger feedback loop, one that gives the Parks Department the ability to learn how to enhance the park experience for the public in a data-driven manner.

 

Infrastructure | To capitalize on the value and benefits derived from public assets, we will deploy, use, maintain and dispose of IoT devices, networks and infrastructure in an efficient, responsible, and secure manner. Read more about this guideline.

In the 21st century it is critical that infrastructure be multi-functional, providing benefit to the public and cities simultaneously. Soofa Benches provide comfortable seating for the public in numerous locations throughout Highbridge Park while giving the public access to much needed USB charging ports and providing the City with additional sensor nodes. The benefit and value is shared between the public and the city, with the value of the data ultimately being returned to the public as it used to improve the quality and lovability of the City’s parks.   

 

Security | Keeping New Yorkers safe is our top priority.  To do so, we are designing and operating IoT systems to protect the public, ensure the integrity of services, and maximize resilience. Read more about this guideline.

Data gathered from Soofa’s custom sensors is visualized and analyzed at the aggregate level rather than at the individual. This level of analysis provides very powerful insights into how parks and public spaces are used which, in turn, lets the City and Parks Department make decisions in an evidence-based way to most effectively and efficiently create the best experience possible for the public. As NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said, “we know just how valuable the use of technology is and how important it is in our day-to-day experience – and these benches tap into that power by allowing us to measure park usership and engagement while protecting parkgoers privacy and providing a vital service.”

 

Operations + Sustainability | We are committed to streamlining operational processes and ensuring financial, operational, and environmental sustainability to ensure that our city keeps running better and faster. Read more about this guideline.

Running IoT technologies on solar power lessens the demand from the electrical grid and also allows these technologies to benefit outdoor locations that presently don’t have easily accessible power sources. Further, by bringing solar infrastructure into the public realm, New Yorkers and visitors are able to engage directly with sustainable technology. Thus, not only is valuable data gathered sustainably, the infrastructure itself becomes an icon for resilience and highlights the City’s commitment to sustainable practices.

 

While integrating new technologies into local government may at first seem daunting, these thoroughly researched and highly vetted guidelines provide a strong foundation upon which to build. We strongly encourage all of our innovative city partners to inquire more about these guidelines and consider adopting them. It’s our belief that technology, when integrated into the public realm responsibly and openly, benefits the public by improving the quality of life in neighborhoods and cities, and by activating outdoor spaces and changing environments to meet the evolving needs of 21st century city dwellers.

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