Los Angeles Set to Embark on a Smart City Experiment

From cellphones and cars, to televisions and refrigerators, more devices are being connected to the Internet.

This network of connected devices is call the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States, is planning to use the prevalence of these IoT devices as a testing ground for becoming a city of the future.

“By putting computers in parking meters, you already have computers in your car, and you have computers in the street lights. The ability to connect them to the Internet of Things allows a better way for your car to know where parking spots are available, allows better for it to communicate when street lights should turn green to maximize traffic flow,” said Ted Ross, chief information officer for the city of Los Angeles.

WATCH: Los Angeles About to Embark on a Smart City Experiment

What is I3? 

Los Angeles is a part of a consortium called “I3” that includes the University of Southern California (USC) and tech companies. This partnership is developing and will soon test an Internet of Things system. It aims to connect sensors placed around the city with other connected devices to make L.A. a smart city.

It is an endeavor that will also rely on residents’ participation, said Raman Abrol of Tech Mahindra. It is one of the I3 tech companies and will provide a platform for an online marketplace called Community Action Platform for Engagement or CAPE.

“Communities can collaborate with businesses and cities and share data in a manner where privacy’s enforced,” Abrol said.

In the online marketplace, neighborhoods could be shopping for a cheaper source of renewable energy or water filtration system. Companies can then compete for their business.

CAPE is just one of the many elements in the I3 system that will make up the Internet of Things network in Los Angeles.

“The I3 is an Internet of Things integrator. Through I3, we’re (Los Angeles) working with the University of Southern California and vendor partners to aggregate the data and give us a better ability to make decisions, decisions to maximize traffic flow, decisions to help reduce crime, decisions to help improve business prosperity,” Ross said.

Privacy, security concerns

As connected devices become more ubiquitous and the flow of personal data increases, privacy and security concerns will be more scrutinized.

“I think that this is one piece of a huge emerging problem, of figuring out how we protect privacy and limit government power in an era of rapidly expanding information availability and rapidly expanding data processing abilities. So it’s not just that there are more and more data points that are available for the government to look at. It is also that we are rapidly expanding our ability to analyze data,” said Stanford University Law School professor, David Alan Sklansky.

Sklansky has been closely following a U.S. Supreme Court case, Carpenter v. the United States, which examines whether police need a warrant to obtain cellphone location information. Sklansky said the decision from the case will impact other applications of technology and data in the modern age.

“The more powerful the technology, the more powerful the unintended consequences,” said Yannis Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

“How do you make sure to possibly regulate this because there has to be regulation so that they have legal and ethical issues taken into consideration as well,” Yortsos added.

Choose to connect

In Los Angeles, people will largely choose whether they want to provide data to the city.

“For someone who’s going to be able to let’s say, connect through their smart phone or through their vehicle, it’s extremely important that they agree and they consent to such matters,” Ross said.

While there was an initial forecast of a big demand in the Internet of Things, over time, the demand dropped, said Jerry Power, executive director of the USC Institute for Communication Technology Management.

“So we started looking at it and trying to understand why and what the problems were,” he said. “We looked at it from a perspective of privacy from the users’ standpoint. We realized privacy was an important issue. We realized that trust was an important issue, and we realized that incentives (was) an issue in the process as well.” 

Power continued, “what incentive has to go back to the users to get them to opt-in? The level of incentive depends on how much the user of the data, who wants the data, how much they disclose about what they’re going to do with the information and how well-trusted that person is.” 

“The exchange of data.” Power added, “if you think about it, it almost becomes like a form of currency, and it’s part of a transaction.”

The smart city experiment will begin at the University of Southern California and expand to the city of Los Angeles.

Some of what works from the program will be be made available for other cities to use.

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