AT&T chooses Chicago for first smart city pilots

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WiFi-enabled kiosks are all the rage in US cities, bringing back memories of the municipal WiFi boom of a decade ago, and all its dreams of universal affordable access for citizens and public services. This time around, the major telcos are engaged rather than hostile, with Verizon and LinkNYC building out hotspots around New York City, and now AT&T announcing an initiative in Chicago.

Part of the AT&T Smart Cities pilot program, Chicago will initially get five Civiq WayPoint touchscreen kiosks on Michigan Avenue and other downtown locations. The kiosks will have 55-inch screens, far larger than those in New York, although the numbers are small for now, by contrast with LinkNYC’s plan for 7,500 free, ad-supported hotspots across five boroughs. There will be no browsers, just a series of links to services and information sources for residents and tourists (LinkNYC removed browsers after some users were watching pornography.)

The AT&T backed Civiq Smartscapes group is more focused on enabling new mobile experiences than the traditional muni-WiFi goals of low cost internet access. The interactive devices will not just support WiFi, but Civiq’s Mobility Experience, which will connect people, ‘things’ and applications to city services. For instance, citizens will be able to initiate dialogs with elected city officials.

AT&T plans to test its smart city services framework, with various city and infrastructure partners, in cities and universities including Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, North Carolina’s Chapel Hill, Florida’s Miami-Dade County and Maryland’s Montgomery County.

“Cities across the world are focused on transforming urban landscapes into hyper-connected smartscapes,” said George Burciaga, managing director of global government development & innovation at Civiq Smartscapes, in a statement. “Connecting smart devices, services and people will allow cities to react to human occurrences in real time, while becoming more efficient and sustainable. We recognize that the heartbeat of every city is the people, so technology should reach them.”

Apart from the kiosks, AT&T is also investigating other locations for smart city services in Chicago, it said at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. Options include smart digital transportation boards in Chicago O’Hare International Airport, to help travellers navigate the airport, track baggage claims and access ground transport; and connected bus shelters to support free WiFi, intelligent lighting and digital transportation display.

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