Idea to have sensors track everything in city

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 29/04/2013
Roger Dennis, The Sensing City
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ

MAKING SENSE: Roger Dennis, the man behind The Sensing City concept, with a sensor-controlled pedestrian crossing on the intersection of Hagley Ave and Oxford Tce.

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Sensors streaming real-time information on everything from traffic to weather and water systems, and even how many people are on the city's streets.

This is Roger Dennis' plan to make Christchurch unique.

For the past 12 months the Christchurch technology expert has been living and breathing a concept called The Sensing City, which would see sensors installed underneath the city's roads and at the top of street lights.

They would then stream real-time information that could be used by city planners to create a "snapshot of how cities actually work".

Dennis also says it would create high-quality intellectual property rights for New Zealand, attract global talent to Christchurch and put the city on the world map as a place of "innovation and unique creativity".

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) has confirmed it has been in discussion with Dennis and he says senior Government ministers have also backed the idea.

Dennis has a bachelor of science in zoology and a bachelor of arts in psychology from the University of Canterbury but has spent years working for international companies that "want to know what threats lie ahead in the future ... and what opportunities they might have".

He co-led a programme called Technology Futures, which involved consulting work for the oil and gas giant Shell in The Hague, and has also worked for leading technology and telecommunication companies.

Dennis said the first stage of The Sensing City will be launched in October, when a team will install sensors under roads in the central city as the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team carries out repairs.

"Christchurch has this extraordinary opportunity because its roads are getting ripped up anyway ... the biggest cost of doing this if there hadn't been an earthquake would be ripping up the roads to lay the sensors."

The first stage would cost about $1.2 million and would be funded by national and international companies, including New Zealand-based infrastructure investment company Infratil.

Dennis hoped the Government would also step up.

Once sensors were in the ground and a small team of staff was on board, Dennis said the next phase, expected to cost about $5m, would involve approaching multinational companies, such as Intel and Cisco and "asking them to come and play".

"Local government and central government support is crucial for this to grow ... and it shouldn't become a political football either, because that would just kill it."

Dennis said underground sensors would also measure movement, so if there was another earthquake the Christchurch City Council would immediately know whether underground infrastructure had sustained damage.

He said many places around the world referred to themselves as "smart cities" but, if Christchurch became the "world's first sensing city, then it would truly be smart".

Dennis had garnered interest from high-profile technology and innovation researchers from universities such as UCL and MIT.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend has met Dennis several times and was "fully supportive of the idea" but said time was of the essence.

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"It would prove completely cost-prohibitive to retrofit the city, so we should go ahead with it ... sooner rather than later".

Funding would be the biggest challenge, he said.

University of Canterbury deputy vice-chancellor Professor Ian Town said The Sensing City would provide a "fantastic opportunity" for the university.

He said the sensors would generate "massive amounts of data" and believed the university's super-computer facilities would be able to help with management and dissemination of information.

sensingcity.org

- The Press

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