It's no secret that Google is not the same company it used to be. The giant has long gone beyond the limits of its usual Internet environment and confidently strides into the real, not virtual world. Now he intends to change the urban environment. Let's try to imagine what will come of this.
Google's reorganization into Alphabet last year is no coincidence. A lot of companies that were created around Google Inc in their time are engaged in everything from self-driving cars to medicine. Google, on the other hand, has been associated with Internet search in many ways. So Sidewalk Labs, created last summer (sidewalk translates as "sidewalk", or "footpath", and labs - "laboratory") is working to improve urban infrastructure with modern technological solutions. Its tasks include solving transport problems of cities, in particular, combating traffic jams, improving the environmental situation, providing residents with accessible Internet.
The first project of the company was connected with the Internet. The company plans to provide free Internet access throughout New York. Modern and highly functional LinkNYC kiosks replace the outdated payphone network throughout the city. In addition to free gigabit Wi-Fi, you can make video or voice calls within the country and charge your gadgets. And all this in exchange for viewing ads. By the way, more than 25% of New Yorkers do not have high-speed broadband Internet access at home. LinkNYC also allows you to access city services or call emergency services.
In the near future, about 10,000 such kiosks should appear in the metropolis. The possibility of transferring the experience gained to other cities is being studied. The foundation of the project was laid by startups Titan and Control Group, which were acquired by Google earlier. But these were only the first steps of the young company. And recently, the details of other, no less ambitious projects have become known.
Being smart is the trend of the season. Smart TVs, suitcases and even smart clothespins that predict the weather. Now, according to Sidewalk Labs, it's time for city streets. The task of the company's developers is to turn them into "smart" roads. The less time drivers and passengers spend on the road, the better. The load on city highways is reduced, emissions of harmful substances are reduced, and the air becomes cleaner. The company figured out how to achieve this.
As you know, in the city, drivers spend a lot of time to find a place to park. Wandering the streets and alleys in search of free space creates additional unnecessary traffic on the roads. Neither the city nor the driver needs him. The company's initiatives will greatly simplify this search.
Now drivers will not need to look for a parking space on their own - they will know in advance where to go. Free parking spaces will be monitored using city webcams, which will be equipped with parking lots, and the drivers themselves, ready to make space for the next applicant for parking.
To achieve this and other goals, the company, together with the US Department of Transportation, is developing a traffic management system that allows you to collect and analyze traffic information. The system, called Flow (that is, "flow"), will be able to receive data from a variety of sources - smartphones, navigators, and other devices. Moreover, it will be impersonal, anonymous information about the movement of users.The information received will help city authorities, private companies and ordinary citizens understand how roads are used, what happens on them, what are the causes of congestion and other traffic problems.
In addition to analytical global tasks related to forecasting, Flow will allow you to solve purely momentary practical tasks. Thus, residents of cities in which this system will be introduced will be able to plan their movements around the city, choosing the fastest and cheapest route from all possible ones. Based on the analysis of the congestion of roads and public transport, the program will suggest the most appropriate way to travel, whether it be a private car or public transport, a taxi or even a bicycle. It is planned to pay for public transport and parking services using an application developed by the company.
In addition, it is planned to give “into the hands” of Flow the regulation of the cost of parking. Here Sidewalk Labs seems to be taking care of the parking lot owners, increasing their profits. The price of parking will change depending on the demand for it. On weekdays, it will be higher near offices, in the evenings and on weekends - near entertainment centers and recreation areas. According to forecasts, this should increase the profitability of this business by 10%.
Also, one of the company's goals is to relieve city dwellers from the need to own a personal car. Such a task can be achieved by integrating short-term car rental services - car sharing - into the transport system of cities. Such a system allows you to rent a car with an hourly or per minute payment and the ability to return the car at any of the service points. Of course, all car rental operations will take place using a smartphone.
City named Google
So where will such a smart miracle city appear? The first city to try to implement such a system will be Columbus, the capital of Ohio. The city is not at all small: its population is 850 thousand people, and with the suburbs it is almost twice as large. The opportunity to become a participant in the experiment went to the city for a reason. Columbus won the Smart City Challenge organized by the US Department of Transportation. In doing so, he beat 77 other participants, including six finalists, including Austin, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco.
It is planned to launch the Flow system in the city in January next year. But for this, the city government must sign a contract with Sidewalk Labs. Under the terms of the agreement, Columbus will be able to use the system completely free of charge for three years. In addition, 100 Wi-Fi kiosks, similar to those already installed in New York, will be installed in the city. The city will also receive $ 40 million in funding from the US Department of Transportation for winning the competition. Unmanned shuttle buses will also appear in the city, which will connect the new bus station with the city's shopping area.
But entering into an agreement with Sidewalk Labs imposes a number of responsibilities on the city. It is required to constantly keep up to date road markings and signs. Police, city officials, drivers and pedestrians alike must learn to use the system. These responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of the city. In addition, Sidewalk Labs would like to avoid a lot of bureaucratic constraints and gain leeway.
Will the Alphabet subsidiary stop only in Columbus in the near future? Unlikely. It has previously been reported that Sidewalk Labs plans to build a high-tech city or neighborhood in which to test projects aimed at improving the urban environment. Moreover, the construction of the "city of the future" from scratch has its advantages over the modernization of existing cities. Here you can fully test both self-driving cars and resource-saving systems.Such a city, or "digital district", designed to accommodate several hundred thousand people, will become a real experimental platform for the technologies of the cities of the future.
But Sidewalk Labs may take a slightly different path. We are talking about the reorganization of the territories of urban settlements that have fallen into decay. There are some in the USA. Although it is unlikely that the company will tackle the well-known Detroit, which is experiencing a significant demographic and economic crisis.
In the cities of the future from Google, or rather from Alphabet (it's time to get used to the new name), all advanced technologies, which are engaged in numerous subsidiaries of the holding, will be tested. Residents of such settlements will be able to use unmanned vehicles, for which dedicated traffic lines will be built, get high-speed broadband Internet access, new types of public transport, advanced technologies in the field of energy saving and much more. In general, a comfortable and safe urban environment in which to live and work comfortably. And if at first only residents of Columbus and other cities and regions of the future can feel the effect of these technologies, then in the future one can hope that the positive experience gained will be introduced and adopted everywhere.
It's no coincidence that Alphabet CEO (Chief Executive Officer) Larry Page said that Sidewalk Labs is "a small investment that will improve the lives of billions of people around the world." It is possible that someday we will be able to live in the cities of the future. And without moving anywhere.