LED street lights (NaMo Stock/shutterstock.com)

Schenectady looks to sensors for efficiency

The General Electric Company first formed in Schenectady, N.Y., over a century ago, so the city has a long history in pursuing innovation. In 2014, city officials started to explore putting sensors throughout the city to track a variety of issues including traffic flow, energy savings and road repairs.

After two successful test deployments with GE and Cisco, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy wants to expand the program citywide under a partnership with utility company National Grid.

“We haven’t entirely figured out what we want to do, but we are moving ahead with deploying these sensors,” McCarthy told GCN after a panel discussion at the Oct. 5 Smart Cities Week conference.  “The game plan is to divide the city into four quadrants and install the sensors in roughly one quarter of the city every six months.”

The sensors are mounted on city light posts, which McCarthy calls the  “most valuable bit of real estate” in Schenectady due to the sophisticated technology deployed on them.  

Cisco’s pilot modernized 5,000 downtown streetlights with LED bulbs that can track activity and adjust their brightness to reduce energy costs.  GE conducted a similar pilot in 2016 on a smaller scale and used additional capabilities to bring in public Wi-Fi.  Another potential project involves using cameras across the city to keep track of road repairs.

“Through taking one picture a month of street surfaces, it becomes your pavement management plan,” McCarthy said.  “You can put a numeric value on the road conditions and automate this process to a higher degree of accuracy.”

There is also interest in equipping police officers with body cameras and adding sensors to track environmental conditions such as air quality.  But one of the bigger challenges is going to be finding a way to store all of the data collected from the cameras and sensors.

“We are in the process of building more sensors to have more capacity for this information,” McCarthy said.  “We need to figure out a budget and whether we have the capacity to deal with all of these emerging datasets.”

Part of the discussion involves whether the data will be housed on premise or in the cloud.  McCarthy acknowledged that the ability to manage and retrieve all of the data plays a part in budget discussions as well.  

For now, the focus is on getting input from residents and property owners on the test pilots.

“We want to take advantage of these emerging technologies, but we don’t have a formal plan yet,” McCarthy said.  “We think this will be something that other communities can replicate.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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