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Intel and General Electric want to make your city smarter.

Every time I hear about smart cities, I think of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs video game, where a hacker runs amok with the operating system that runs Chicago in the future. And every time I interview tech executives about it, they tell me they’ve never heard of the game, which sold more than 10 million copies.

Let’s hope that Intel and General Electric know how to protect us. The two giants talked this week about how they are collaborating to make cities smarter, including projects that involve making their headquarters buildings into ultra-connected and instrumented places. Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, talked smart cities on stage with Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Brian Krzanich of Intel (left) and Jeff Immelt of GE talk about a smart lamp post.

Above: Brian Krzanich of Intel (left) and Jeff Immelt of GE talk about a smart lamp post.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Intel estimates that each one of us will use 1.5 gigabytes of data per day by 2020. A smart hospital will use 3,000 gigabytes a day. And a smart factory could use a million gigabytes of data per day.


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“We are at a line of demarcation where you embrace the future or you are unable to satisfy the needs of your customers,” said Immelt. “Every industrial company has to transform itself into a digital company.”

Smart cities are starting with smart buildings, such as the headquarters of the companies. They’re also doing smart factories. But cities could collect much more data from all of the things in the Internet of Things, or everyday objects that are becoming smart and connected.

GE’s Current division has created Predix, software that takes all of the data from all of the sensors in a smart city and analyzes it for patterns. Predix sits on top of the Intel Internet of Things platform, which provides the sensor data.

“The industrial world is very different from the consumer world,” Immelt said. “Very small changes in productivity can drive huge business changes.”

Intel is promoting smart cities at its IDF 2016 event.

Above: Intel is promoting smart cities at its IDF 2016 event.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

John Gordon, chief digital officer at GE’s Current energy division, says GE is only collecting metadata, not identity information, on people as they move through cities. Smart street lamps can detect the movement of people across a crosswalk, or the number of cars on a road. Those streets will send that data via the cellular network or Wi-Fi to the central hub.

Among the benefits: pattern recognition. You could, for instance, tell a food truck where the spots are in the city where there’s a combination of a lot of foot traffic and available parking spaces. That can drive commerce.

Someone could take the information from Predix’s micro services and its applications programming interfaces and use it to create that app for food trucks. Gordon hopes that lots of different developers will come up with services that make use of the smart infrastructure.

Brian Krzanich of Intel and John Gordon of GE's Current at IDF 2016.

Above: Brian Krzanich of Intel and John Gordon of GE’s Current at IDF 2016.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

“Metadata is the secret to this,” Gordon said.

GE, for instance, has street lights that use more energy-efficient LED lighting. It can instrument those lamp posts with sensors that can collect a lot of data, such as gunfire locations. It can turn that information over to ShotSpotter, which tracks gunfire locations in cities.

It’s all about driving better management, efficiency, and cost awareness in cities, as well as reducing traffic congestion, lowering crime, and predicting behavior.

Of course, everybody is always worried this technology, like in Watch Dogs, could be used to invade our privacy. Even Krzanich joked, “I worry my board will realize when I am in my office or not.”

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