Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago will get an AT&T smart city ecosystem of services that includes traffic monitoring and gunfire detection, the telecom company announced Tuesday.
AT&T already offers connected utility meters, street lights and water systems, but will expand its infrastructure, transportation and public safety services, according to a press release.
In the release, the company paints a futuristic municipality built on smooth tech-driven efficiency. City officials will be able to remotely keep tabs on systems such as power outages, air quality and traffic jams in real time. Maintenance crews will also be able to identify bridges that need repairs or aging pipes that need to be replaced. Mobile apps will help people stay informed about traffic and safety problems, and even remotely view parking meters or reserve a parking spot. On the safety side, gunfire detection technology could help law enforcement determine where a shooting occurred, the number of people involved and how many rounds were fired. (Last fall, General Electric announced plans to work with the maker of the popular ShotSpotter to bring the same tech to streetlights.)
The Chicago Tribune reported that with the boosted technology, Chicago will focus on “improving resident engagement, using sensors to maintain infrastructure and making buildings smarter and more energy efficient.”
“The goal is to better service our residents and to get more out of the budget that we use to deliver those services,” said Brenna Berman, the city’s chief information officer.
AT&T aims to tap into a global market for smart cities that is expected to grow to about $1.6 trillion in 2020, according to a 2014 report. Last September, the Obama administration announced a $160 million “Smart Cities” Initiative that will put federal research and more than 25 new tech-centric collaborations to work helping cities tackle some of their most challenging problems regarding everything from resilience to public safety and transportation. Cisco is working with Kansas City, Missouri, to turn that city into a sensor-filled model of monitoring that proponents tout as, naturally, efficient.
As the “smart city” concept rolls out in more and more U.S. cities, some skeptics remain wary of the integration of government and big business, while others have privacy concerns. The general public, at least in Chicago and according to the local Fox News channel, is also conflicted. Asked about the AT&T deal, one Chicagoan said, “I feel like I’ve been watched before by cameras so it’s not that big of a deal.” Another? “I think it’s very Orwellian and I think technology is already intrusive enough as it is.”
Kelsey E. Thomas is a writer and editor based in the most upper-left corner of the country. She writes about urban policy, equitable development and the outdoors (but also about nearly everything else) with a focus on solutions-oriented journalism. She is a former associate editor and current contributing editor at Next City.