Other of Interest 5/28/12

CITE: The ghost city built to test future tech

No one will live there, although houses will include all the necessities.

A $1bn “ghost city” is to be built in New Mexico to test future technologies. The Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE) will be a fully functioning city, complete with running water, a power-grid and wireless networks, but without any permanent residents.

The town, to be built by international development firm Pegasus Global Holdings, will be used to test and develop renewable energy, integrated traffic systems, next generation wireless networks and smart grid security systems. Construction begins in June.

CITE is a place where you can test energy, telecom, driver less vehicles, integrated traffic systems, and operating systems without endangering people

Bob Brumley, Senior Managing Director of Pegasus Global Holdings, sat down with Humans Invent to talk exclusively about the technologies being tested at CITE and the plans for the future of the unique experiment.

Smart city: Testing future tech

The plan for the facility is that testing will take place in five different categories. First is the energy sector, including everything from alternative energy to smart grids that monitor household appliances – with energy use interlinked with all categories in the testing base.

“The second category will be telecommunication,” says Brumley. “But telecommunication goes hand in hand with efficiently operating energy systems. A lot of energy systems rely on wireless to send data back and forth. A perfect example of the marriage of telecoms and energy is something as simple as a washer and dryer. The fastest growing market in machine-to-machine communication is ironically in the home, where new technology and new machines are being introduced as appliances. While the appliances will talk to the manufacturer over the RF network, who can take the data and contact the home owner if there is a problem.”

The blueprint for a new tech city.

Next up, and one of the most interesting future techs is Integrated Traffic Systems (ITS), which will also rely on wireless networks, getting the vehicles and stop signs to communicate and send each other data. “You’ve got technology in the vehicle that is analogous to putting a smart phone inside the car. Now you can’t fully benefit from that if you are a driver because you are not allowed to text and use the phone while you’re driving, so you do one of two things. Either make the driver more productive; they are no longer a driver, and you have a vehicle that is an autonomous vehicle.”

“So you get in the vehicle,” Brumley explains. “It conveys you from point A to point B through this integrated traffic system, you’re in there on your laptop, and the vehicle moves you in and out of traffic under a separate, designated lane for autonomous vehicles. The alternative is the driver remains the driver, but the vehicle goes to audio, as opposed to visual, so you’ll hear a voice like you get in GPS, advising alternative routes, very similar to what the radio stations do. But the vehicle is doing it based on inputs it’s getting from the integrated traffic system.” says Brumley.

Traffic systems could also be used in parallel with security systems, for example to force a fugitive bank robber to stop at multiple red lights or just slowing down the traffic on their getaway route. To put some of this in perspective, Google is heavily involved in developing driverless vehicles and the state of Nevada has recently licensed driverless cars.

The fourth category is ‘systems of systems,’ essentially ironing out the complications that arise from layering new levels of complexity on top of old operating systems, and getting multiple systems working in harmony.

Finally, there is an ‘other’ category, covering all the things that will be tested in the future that haven’t been invented yet. “That’s where the entrepreneurial and innovation community come in.” says Brumley.

Four years in the making

The Centre will be modeled on the town of Rock Hill, South Carolina, complete with roads, houses and even commercial buildings. “I happened to be coming back from a planning conference as to what the ‘city lab’ should look like, and we were flying into Charlotte, North Carolina,” Brumley says.

“We were literally circling the airfield to land, and I looked out the window and there was this pattern below me of a town, and it had six square blocks of downtown, it was exactly what I had in my head in terms of how we wanted CITE to be laid out. After we landed I looked on Google Earth, and found it was Rock Hill. It was the right size, right shape, right density, right balance of old and new building materials.” The New Mexico location was chosen because of its proximity to universities and national labs.

An illustration of how the city will look from the air.

The project has taken four years to get off the ground from rather humble beginnings, but  the dream is finally becoming a reality, with the hope that this could be part of a broader network of cities. “It started as a small project back in 2008,” Brumley explains. “We were looking at next generation wireless networks. It wasn’t for military use so we couldn’t test it on a military base, and there weren’t any smart networks at the time. We would have had to attach it to a standard network but we couldn’t find anyone who was willing to allow us to run test data for fear of disrupting their customer service.” The solution was to build their own test city from the ground up.

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