One of the challenges with achieving smart city goals, especially involving citizen participation, is that it isn’t yet easy, or cheap, to get everyday urban things to talk to the Internet.  There’s a variety of staging technologies including Bluetooth, NFC, RFID, WiFi and cellular, but each has a significant range, reliability, or cost limitation.

For example, if I’m a citizen and for whatever reason I want to talk to my bicycle over the Internet, or I run a small company and I want to talk to my fleet of delivery vehicles, such conversations are cumbersome and costly.

Well, a new technology called LoRaWAN (referred to in Rodger Lea’s January 30, 2017 post here) offers a great Low Power Wide Area solution.  With a functional range of several kilometers, a few LoRaWAN gateways can effectively blanket a city. And their sub-$1,000 cost is low enough that hobbyists, technology enthusiasts and businesses can be expected to voluntarily buy a gateway for their area, making it realistic for any city or community to crowd-source a complete network. This, coupled with the availability of very cheap (under $5) low-power devices to do the talking, means that innumerable sensors and things can reliably express themselves within applications – for example, over cell phones.

Urban Opus has been experimenting with Vancouver’s first LoRaWAN gateways since early this year.  Based on these explorations, we now aim to establish a city-wide LoRaWAN network – effectively creating a smart city innovations ‘platform’ by removing technology and cost barriers to participation.  Our objectives align with and extend from The Things Network, a nonprofit global community of LoRaWAN enthusiasts, arising from Smart Amsterdam, already including 84 countries.  We aim to catalyze cities across Canada to join in, to create a national innovation platform.

This is very exciting: a first true launchpad for street-level citizen participation in smart city potentials.  So look forward to gateways, consultations and hackathons coming to your neighborhood very soon.  We welcome all ideas and interest.