What Does the Canadian Smart Cities Challenge Tell Us About the Future of Intelligent Cities?

In 2017, the government of Canada issued a challenge to communities across the country: Tell us how you would improve the lives of citizens if you were a smart city. A panel of 13 judges sifted through the hundreds of submissions to identify 20 finalists. Despite their varying sizes and populations of the final cities—the competition is divided into three categories based on population—a few common themes emerged.


Empowerment and Inclusion

Almost one-third of applicants identified empowerment and inclusion as one of their main smart city focus areas. While it may not seem like digital infrastructure is well-suited to empowering citizens, it can be a critical piece of the puzzle. Improving the efficiency of public transportation, increasing public safety, enhancing urban development and many benefits of smart cities help all residents live and work. Not to mention, any urban area that makes it easier to get around also expands access to jobs, food and other resources, increasing the odds that all residents can get what they need to thrive.


There are additional ways to make sure a smart city is being inclusive of an entire urban population. For example, Current has helped cities run a Bright Innovators program, which offers resources and tools to K-12 youth to encourage the pursuit of STEM education and careers. Students gain hands-on experience with cutting-edge technology and become more engaged in the community and its future. Other events, such as city-wide block parties, hackathons and workshops, also bring the community closer together and get residents excited about the possibilities of new smart city technology.



Current’s CityIQ™ connected sensor nodes placed on the street light poles can extract real-time and historical traffic, pedestrian, and parking data that provides valuable insights on traffic. That information enables traffic flow through a city to be improved by directing drivers along optimized routes and to available parking spaces. This helps cities traverse the process of moving traffic through its corridors—assisting bus drivers, delivery personnel and citizens in being on time to their destinations.


Mobility is enhanced with adaptive signal control. In this effort, Current’s ecosystem partner, PTV Group, takes real-time CityIQ sensor information and applies it to predictive models on roadways, altering signal patterns to best accommodate the flow of traffic. PTV’s tools can both optimize streetlights at individual intersections and along popular routes. As a result, delays and travel times decrease, which in turn reduces emissions from traveling cars.


Upon arrival in a given location, the same sensor nodes enable more timely parking by identifying open spots. This increased efficiency reduces emissions from idling cars. Pollution can be further reduced with the encouragement of multi-modal transportation. Bike detection will soon be available as an over-the-air upgrade to sensor networks, allowing cities to identify popular bike routes and increase the safety of riders.


Economic Opportunity

A smart city can also provide economic opportunities for citizens. Firstly, the infrastructure itself can stimulate a city’s app economy, or the opportunities and activities surrounding mobile applications. Just as Apple’s App Store drove incredible job growth by providing iOS, your city will provide the data and platform to enlist the software developer community for ever-expanding app development. With the open flow of data and APIs, developers, schools and organizations can work together to create new apps for specific use cases. It also provides a more attractive home for startups and tech companies, potentially bringing more jobs to the city.


Secondly, the data gathered from around a city can help inform decisions impacting local businesses. Business owners can see where foot traffic is highest when deciding where to open a storefront, for example, while the improved mobility and ease of transportation encourages citizens and visitors alike to explore all areas of a city and bring their patronage to new places.


Environmental Quality

Digital infrastructure can assist city-wide sustainability efforts in numerous ways. The same sensor network that helps streamline traffic flow and parking can be used to make public transportation a more efficient, attractive option for residents and visitors to reduce emissions and improve quality of life.


Current’s CityIQ nodes are embedded with environmental sensors that provide micro-level information on temperature, humidity, pressure and vibration. This provides valuable insights to micro-weather impact and drive better weather-based decisions for local businesses and public services.


Healthy Living and Recreation

What if a city could make it easier for residents to bike through local streets? What if sensors could alert city officials the most dangerous intersections or the most likely location of lightning strikes? And what if you could take all the data a city is collecting and apply it to foster a stronger, more connected community?


These are all possible with a smart city. Using sensors and Current’s ecosystem of partner applications to monitor the environment and enable the city to respond when appropriate can empower citizens to live healthier, safer lives. Data can also be used to encourage community engagement, create partnerships that connect otherwise separate sectors and groups, and provide health support to all residents.


Safety and Security

Sensor-enabled street light poles can assist with emergency weather response, alerting drivers to issues and rerouting traffic based on road conditions. Applications can also take the sensor data and analyze it in near real time to identify safety concerns. For example, Current’s smart city infrastructure works with an application called ShotSpotter™, which can be enabled on CityIQ nodes to detect gunfire. It can then locate the source of the gunfire and alert emergency services with key information. The integration with Genetec provides digital patrol that aids in real-time response efficiency and enhances crime investigation accuracy and efficiency while maintaining the chain of custody.


According to the SmartCitiesWorld profile of San Diego, sensors have already improved road safety in the city. The city placed sensors in areas with high numbers of traffic accidents, allowing the system to collect data relating to accidents and the circumstances surrounding them.


“Within one month of turning it on, we had five incidents where the police department made significant headway with the data that’s provided from the sensors,” Lorie Cosio-Azar, San Diego’s Energy & Sustainability Program Manager, told SmartCitiesWorld. “Safety is actually the number-one use case that we have seen now, other than parking.”


It’s all a valuable part of the push toward “Vision Zero.” This is an initiative that many cities are embracing in an effort to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries. As part of the effort, cities can enlist developers or application partners to gain insights on accidents and near misses using CityIQ traffic and pedestrian data.


What Current Can Do for Smart Cities

Today, there is little doubt that data is the driving force behind the intelligent city movement, with the power to spark social participation as well as improve existing public services and support the development of an entirely new range of activities. Current is the only company offering an end-to-end approach to smart cities enabled by lamp posts, with the goal of transforming ordinary street light poles into all-knowing data networks. Intelligent sensor nodes can make a huge impact for all cities through optimized operations and value-added services for residents that make their communities more livable and workable, and their transportation networks more efficient. The prize is unparalleled gains in efficiency and performance, from the optimization of available parking spaces, reduced traffic congestion, to safer community.


In addition, Current has a partnership with Nokia, and the telecommunications company provides private LTE networks in Canada for Current’s CityIQ digital platform in the Canadian market. The technology ensures street lights can be turned into an intelligent resource for city services that improve safety and livability.


There is no one-size-fits-all approach for building an intelligent environment. Smart cities will develop in many different forms and over time. Each faces its own challenges, all dependent upon geographic location, population and existing and future concerns. Leaders must determine their vision and draw from resources like digital infrastructure that allow it to come to life.


Current, will be there every step of the way as you identify the ways to increase your city’s intelligence. For a free smart cities consultation, contact Varouj Artokun at varouj.artokun@gecurrent.com.