How Your City Is Changing in Ways You Didn’t Even Know

How Your City Is Changing in Ways You Didn’t Even Know

By John Gordon


Because urban life, down from your streets and up to your skyscrapers, is evolving in surprising ways.

By John Gordon

The author, John Gordon, is the Chief Digital Officer, Current, powered by GE.  

OZY and Predix from GE — the cloud-based development platform built for industry — have partnered to bring you an inside look at the future of digital industries, where people, data and productivity meet.

You live, you work, you play — and quietly, behind the scenes, city leaders tinker with new infrastructure to welcome you to a new kind of future. It’s happened before, back in the day when infrastructure basics included walls (protection!) and wells (water!). Flashier features then included roads, lights and, more recently, public Wi-Fi.

Today, we’re at the cusp of another major shift, one that has the potential to release the greatest impact of all because new infrastructure can leverage the creativity and innovation of all residents in a way that benefits virtually everyone. Call it an evolution to urban digital infrastructure, allowing us to sense — see, hear, feel and even smell — key information from across a city. It may be hard to believe, but parts of this movement are already at work: Roadway cameras help with traffic flow. Environmental sensors scan air quality. Microphones triangulate gunshots. All of these tools, and more, have been useful to city halls in delivering better services to locals.

For this movement to best work, urban infrastructure must be open to all.

This kind of tech is increasingly being deployed for very specific purposes — to solve particular pain points for unique individuals. The problem, though, is that it can be pretty pricey to deploy certain special sensors multiple times across a city, and the sensors haven’t always been designed to empower residents more broadly. For this movement to best work, urban infrastructure must be open to all, and the costs should be shared by everyone. After all, anyone can drive on a road or walk on a sidewalk, and water plus energy feed buildings short and tall.

One way we could power up our potential? Light. It’s everywhere, forming a ubiquitous network for capturing and transmitting data, from city streets to high-rise offices. In the U.S. alone, there are 7 billion light fixtures, compared with around 327 million smartphones. Now imagine piggybacking intelligent, connected solutions onto lights — just imagine cities filled with the growing number of energy-efficient LED fixtures that could be outfitted with microphones, special sensors, cameras or even public Wi-Fi. These extra features could pull different kinds of sounds, images and other information, and we make that all actionable through programs such as GE Predix, a cloud-computing platform that securely collects and analyzes data.

Of course, cities would retain control of what kind of data, and how much of it, is shared. And once the infrastructure is in place, new solutions for the data could be created much more quickly. One city, for instance, recently asked us to look at when pedestrians are in crosswalks, to help make their streets safer. We hadn’t originally set out to solve for this particular problem, though we quickly created new code that solved for this need — and we know there are countless other applications that we haven’t even thought of yet. That’s the beauty of big data like this: You never know what you might find once you start digitally digging.

Predix from GE is enabling the adoption of powerful, secure and scalable solutions built for the industrial app economy. It’s industrial-strength strength, powering the future of industry. Get Connected