How These N.B. Municipalities Are Using Technology To Make Their Cities Smarter

Representatives of Black Arcs showcase how their technology works. Image: Inda Intiar/Huddle

MONCTON – A few people hung around a blackboard that looks like it’s layered with constellations of stars at the back of Venn Innovation’s lobby Thursday. It’s a simulated map of Moncton that’s created by a Fredericton-based company Black Arcs, Inc.

The city is using the technology to communicate municipal plans to citizens.

Using an interactive touch-screen map of the city’s downtown based on real data, a citizen can see the impact of adding or removing a bus service from a certain area, for example. The screen will show them data on greenhouse gas emissions, traffic and other things. The technology can also save citizens’ suggestions, which in turn, could help city planners.

Ryan Sorrey, the city’s chief information officer, says the technology allows citizens to interact with municipal plans that often come in thick binders, like Moncton’s 2040 plan for public transport.

“We don’t expect our citizens to read this three-inch binder of a plan, but we expect that we as a municipality should be able to educate them on it,” he says.

The city has been able to park the technology in various locations to engage more than 60 citizens. The project also got funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities due to its potential impact on making the city more environmentally friendly.

The project is focused on public transit and parking for now. But in the future, Black Arcs CEO and founder Jake Arsenault hopes it can help tackle issues related to healthcare and poverty.

The project was one of three presented at the Smart Cities Panel and Collision Day that was hosted by Venn Innovation and the Community Solutions Network, a program of Future Cities Canada, on Thursday.

Collision Days are led by Evergreen with lead technical partner OpenNorth, with funding provided by Infrastructure Canada. They aim to gather innovators, solutions providers and decision-makers from various municipalities to tackle issues.

Besides the presentations, the event also included a session for municipalities and solutions providers to “collide.”

“We see [Collision Day] as, in essence, a matchmaking event,” says Meg Ogden, senior program manager at Evergreen Canada. “The idea is to connect municipalities to startups so municipalities can hear about the technology or solutions coming down the pipe from solutions providers, and solutions providers can hear about the issues that municipalities are facing everyday and market or tweak their tech accordingly.”

More than 30 people representing solution providers, non-profit organizations and government organizations gathered at the event. Representatives of Riverview, Dieppe and Miramichi were also present.

The Network serves as a platform to help communities across the country to build capacity and navigate the smart cities landscape. It provides support to the Smart Cities Challenge finalists to go further with their solutions.

New Brunswick cities were part of the competition, and Fredericton was one of those finalists last year.

The city, whose systems are all in the cloud, has various app-based solutions gathered under a Digital Community Hub to tackle issues that face different communities. They include the Hullo app to help newcomers settle, the Check-in app to ensure the safety of older adults, and one app that aims to help the homeless. The city also partners with St. Mary’s First Nation on its smart city initiatives.

“We’re not smart if we’re leaving out our most vulnerable,” says Laurie Guthrie, Fredericton’s Smart City manager, about efforts to include all segments of society.

The implementation of the Doorable app by AppDigenous Development Inc. was one of the key projects. AppDigenous became a partner when Fredericton signed up to compete in the Smart Cities challenge last year.

CEO and founder Melissa Lunney says a lack of accessibility for people with disabilities bars them from better and healthier lives and the job market.

Doorable provides a map of where accessible doors are located in Fredericton and can be used to open doors automatically as the person approaches, so they don’t have to push a button that might be hard to reach or unlit at night. The IoT-based technology can tell a user in real-time if the doors work and collect data.

“This is what I’m exploring now – how often is the door being used, maybe we can use to that to determine better accessible buses, maybe we can look at the data how many accessible parking spaces are needed in a location,” Lunney says.

Lunney is currently testing six places for implementation of the hardware and software, and plans to work “very closely” with the people who will be using it.

In Saint John, Economic Development Greater Saint John helped fund a project with partners Saint John Energy and T4G as part of the Innovation Challenge the city launched a few years ago.

Saint John Energy and T4G, as well as its partner Microsoft, are building a digital portal that would help both the utility and consumers manage energy better.

As the industry changes, and demand for things like solar power and electric vehicle chargers are growing, utilities need to be able to respond quickly to changes in its network.

“A solution like this will help bring the data from that network, from the edges, consolidate it, and then report it back to the internal management systems…so they can better forecast and better respond,” says Mirko Crevatin, director of solutions architecture at T4G. “This is one piece of a larger ecosystem. It’s a layer of data superimposed to help them make better decisions.”

The data can also help consumers manage their energy usage better, says Carl Ozkaynak, the utility’s director of smart grid.

“They can go on the website, self-serve, and see their energy usage in real time,” he said. “They can understand how to better manage their energy and register for programs that will enable them to save money, and reduce greenhouse gas [emissions].”