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Chapel Hill to join AT&T's smart city program

Chapel Hill is collaborating with AT&T as a spotlight city to build a smart city framework that will better connect residents to the town through the Internet.

AT&T has teamed up with Cisco, IBM and other leaders in technology to work with several spotlight communities across the country to develop a plan that will use technology to make the community more safe and efficient. 

The initiative will use Internet of Things technology, which is the network of physical objects, to better connect residents to the town and provide detailed analytical data for the town to improve transit systems, pipes, roadways and other public facilities.

Scott Clark, executive director for technology and chief information officer for the Town of Chapel Hill, said a smart city is any municipality that employs the Internet of Things to connect a variety of devices and sensors to the internet.

“(The Internet of Things) technology allows devices to be interconnected and data can be used to provide real-time information to people that use the services, and also provide information to look at trends and long-term planning aspects,” Clark said.

AT&T spokesperson Josh Gelinas said the framework was about problem solving.

“You’ll see solutions connecting streetlights and water systems, parks and pipes.”

Gelinas said the technology will allow cities to remotely monitor structures such as bridges and pipes for more efficient repairs.

Clark said public transit is one example of how this technology would apply to the town.

“Buses currently have vehicle locators, but if they were enhanced you could have more information to send to an app on a phone which would tell you when it will arrive,” Clark said.

Clark also said the technology would be beneficial for more long-term uses, such as using accurate analytical data which could give the town information as to how many people rode the buses. He said this would help improve the entire system by enhancing routes after data analysis.

Gelinas said an important part of this project is to increase resident engagement with mobile apps to keep them prepared.

He said people will be able to receive notifications in real time that a traffic light is not working, or will be able to reserve parking spaces ahead of time.

“Some of the things being looked at will help residents in ways large and small,” Chapel Hill Town Council member Michael Parker said. “Talking about parking apps, while that’s certainly not going to transform people’s lives, it will certainly make things more convenient.” 

Clark said this will be a multi-phase project, and the first step will be to look at what options are available and match the needs of the town.

“(It is) probably too early to project when devices would be deployed, (but it is) something both parties want to do sooner than later,” Clark said.

Clark said the town’s working relationship with AT&T on other technology projects was one of the main reasons Chapel Hill was selected as a spotlight city to develop this project.

“It’s great that Chapel Hill is recognized as a place these things can and should be done,” Parker said.

He said this project, along with the location of the Google office downtown and the Google Fiber technology that is coming, shows Chapel Hill is a technologically driven town.

“The agreement is Chapel Hill will supply staff time, and with our expertise will work with the folks at AT&T, who provide consulting at no cost,” Clark said.

Clark said there will be no initial expenses to residents, but if there is a practical use, they will weigh the costs for the town.

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“AT&T thinks Internet of Things solutions can create impactful solutions for citizens, and we are excited to work for Chapel Hill,” Galinas said.