Schenectady, NY sees potential in IoT

City explores smart technologies and deployments

Schenectady, New York, is one of many cities across the country seeking to improve its operations and efficiency through “internet of things” deployments. With a population of about 65,000 people, the city is exploring smart lighting, a wireless network and various sensor and camera technologies as part of a new Smart City Advisory Commission created by Mayor Gary McCarthy.

Schenectady has a long history of innovation, MCarthy told RCR Wireless News. The city is home to a major

Mayor Gary McCarthy of Schenectady, N.Y.

General Electric facility; part of the history of GE’s presence in the area dates back to the fact that Thomas Edison purchased land in the area for his manufacturing facility in the 1880s. The first regular TV broadcast originated in Schenectady as well. GE’s factory has been an innovation center for the city, and the company has specifically been working on IoT projects within its Schenectady location. When GE CTO Mark Little retired recently, McCarthy asked him to head up the new smart city commission.

McCarthy said his goal is to establish broad deployments of smart technologies, including a cellular or Wi-Fi mesh network; smart lighting; video cameras whose data can be analyzed to support a wide range of city functions; and other sensor-based technologies on city vehicles to improve operations.

Many smart city deployments to date, MCarthy said, “have really been in neighborhoods and business districts and smaller zones within communities. What I’m looking to do here in Schenectady is to do a full, citywide deployment,” McCarthy said. He added that the wireless network would be installed by replacing the heads of existing street lights with new heads that support both LED smart lighting and wireless connectivity – in particular, enabling support of video cameras.

Data from the video feeds, he said, will be used for everything from traffic monitoring and management to assessing the state of roads and repair needs, as well as the more typical use case of expanding law enforcement awareness. He said the city already does a significant amount of analysis of crime and traffic-related statistics, and such information can be layered with fire code enforcement data, school district data, census data and other information to create a more holistic view of Schenectady.

“You get a better picture of what’s happening, better management of municipal resources, and at the same time [you can]create opportunities for business development and hopefully, overall improvement in terms of the quality of life,” McCarthy said.

In the case of road repairs, he said, the city will be able to use remote video cameras to take pictures on a monthly basis of the street surface and use the information to assess repair needs as part of its pavement management plan. Currently, he said, that type of assessment involves sending an employee out to put a numeric value on the state of the road surface and enter it into a software program that provides analysis.

“With the cameras, you can do all that more quickly and more efficiently,” McCarthy said. The city also is collecting data from its snow plow fleet – currently in its second year of data collection and has already been able to take some steps to reduce idle time. Deploying sensors on its snow plow fleet, McCarthy said, will ultimately help determine things like the optimal speed for plowing light and fluffy snow compared to wet and heavy snow, without throwing it into residents’ lawns. Temperature sensors may eventually direct crews to work in specific areas, since different surfaces and areas freeze at different rates. Cameras also can provide information on which streets have already been plowed, and may someday help inform citizens how soon they can expect their own street to be cleared, he added.

Although most of its work is still in the exploration phase, Schenectady has two limited deployments of network equipment from Cisco and GE’s smart city lighting.

“We’re still in early stages of deployment,” McCarthy said, adding that the mayoral commission is still exploring options and what other communities have done. He said that in the next few months the city will be “making some decisions in terms of broader-based deployments of the lights, creating that [wireless]network to be able to take advantage of the sensor-based technology that is out there.”

He noted that in terms of backhaul resources, Schenectady has already done limited deployments of its own fiber resources and “we’re evaluating whether we would use existing vendors, or [if we]would deploy more city fiber for the full roll-out of smart city deployments.

“It’s exciting to be part of this,” McCarthy said.