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How Vegas is using IoT and Cisco to improve the city experience

Las Vegas’s chief innovation officer explains how the city has partnered with Cisco to deliver internet of things technologies that will help improve visitor experiences

The US city of Las Vegas is home to 650,000 people, and a further 42 million visit the city each year.

Those visitors all come seeking a unique experience, and at Cisco Live 2017, the city’s chief innovation officer, Michael Sherwood, spoke about how Vegas is implementing the internet of things (IoT) and working in partnership with Cisco to make sure every visitor and resident has an excellent experience.

“This is a very large city as far as tourism goes and we have residents as well,” he said. “It is important that we provide seamless experiences for them.”

There are already billions of connected devices all over the world, and in city infrastructures these include connected parking sensors, traffic control systems, connected lighting, and water or waste management systems across city grids.

Las Vegas is using Cisco’s Smart+Connected digital platform to capture and analyse data from across its desert streets. The platform is designed to remove any complexity that may be created by different sensors delivering different types of data to separate systems, and provides a way for data to be analysed and acted upon.

Sherwood said he chose this system because “there was already equipment and technology and ideology we already understood”.

The 22,000 events that take place in Las Vegas over a year can cause congestion and other issues as people flock to venues, and Sherwood is looking to use the IoT to help people move safely and efficiently from place to place.

This includes assessing the number of vehicles travelling through lighting systems, people who choose an “alternative route” such as jaywalking to cross the street, and the density of both foot and vehicle traffic.

Technology ecosystem

“It’s all about the experience and what we’re trying to do is build a technology ecosystem to help that, and data is a huge part of that,” said Sherwood. “We didn’t have data on that before. Now, with this intelligence architecture, we can see how people use the streets.”

Having this data allows the city to plan for efficiency. For example, Sherwood said that if a single car is sitting at a red light early in the morning and there is no oncoming traffic, it would be possible to bypass the usual traffic phases to ensure that car does not have to wait.

“We don’t want you stuck in traffic. Now the camera tech can look at that and make changes,” he said. “That is a better experience.”

Such devices could also be used to enhance public safety, enabling the city to become more “forward thinking and reactionary as opposed to defensive”, said Sherwood.

“Cisco is giving us that alarm system that says something is out of whack, whether that’s traffic back flow, whether there’s a backpack left behind,” he said. “Those types of analytics change the dynamics of how cities operate.”

Digital playground

As well as improving the experience for visitors who come to the city for fun, Las Vegas’s government has been implementing beta projects in the downtown area to gauge reaction from both the government and the public before scaling these innovations more widely.

This “digital playground” is split into sub-districts to test the impact of IoT technology on services such as education, medical services, arts and entertainment, businesses and socio-economic structures.

This allows Sherwood to “prove and test” ideas before they are rolled out across the city, and allows the city to run analytics on each model to see how much it would cost to scale and what the impact would be.

Ultimately, Sherwood hopes it will develop the downtown area for growth. “Once it’s good, then we can expand that out across the community,” he said. “If we can, as a government, provide those roots, that’s what it’s all about.

“Our biggest motto for Las Vegas is building community to make life better for our citizens.”

In an effort to “build a better city”, Sherwood hopes that, eventually, sensors around Vegas can be used to allow people to plan ahead, whether that’s allowing someone to check whether there’s parking available where they’re headed or re-purposing an employee who would usually spend eight hours a day emptying dustbins by using sensors on dustbins to indicate when they are full.

Open data and carbon footprints

As well as creating and analysing data to make Las Vegas more efficient, the city has an open data policy, sharing raw datasets online.

“Las Vegas is currently number one for open data across the US,” said Sherwood. “IoT is extremely important in that journey.”

One of the reasons the city is so open with its data is to help reduce duplicate services elsewhere, so that service providers beyond its geographic boarders can see how Vegas has used data to solve problems and could use this to develop their own solutions.

Technology is also used around Vegas to enhance other areas, such as solar panels on top of buildings and out in the desert that make the city 100% sustainable.  

Projects are also in place to use data to control traffic lights where there is traffic build-up that could worsen air quality, and the government has installed digital AEDs in parks that, if used, will automatically contact the emergency services.

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“If you have an event and someone takes an AED out of the container, it sends an automatic message to the fire department,” said Sherwood. “It’s about how we bring people to our community to live. When you’re looking at the tech, we’re enabling someone to have a better life.”

In the future, Sherwood said Las Vegas would be looking to implement a seamless payment transaction system, and in August 2017 it hopes to trial its Go Vegas mobile app, which will give visitors information such as outside temperature and parking availability.

Eventually, Sherwood hopes to use this app to build “profiles on individuals” which will enable the app to provide a personalised experience to users based on their usual activities.

But there is only so far that this technology can go, and Sherwood said that although many of the hotels and casinos along the strip are willing to collaborate with the city government, they are not always happy to share all their data and risk losing out to the competition.

This limits the amount of information that could be provided to visitors through the app, for example allowing hotel check-in or venue bookings.

Sherwood said: “The casinos are doing their own thing and we will partner where we can, but as for a completely integrated solution, I don’t know if we’ll ever see that.”

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)

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