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Las Vegas officials, adopters of smart cities tech, ready for CES

As one of the largest consumer electronics shows in the U.S. rolls into town next week, Las Vegas city officials have their eye on the type of innovative technology they have invested in over the past several years.

From autonomous vehicles to pedestrian safety, “there’s so many different things” that city officials are looking forward to when CES 2020 starts Tuesday, according to city Information Technologies Director Michael Sherwood. The four-day trade show is the biggest annual convention in Las Vegas, expected to draw 170,000 visitors and more than 4,500 companies.

Sherwood said the city creates a list of companies it thinks may be able to solve a present-day problem and vendors will come to City Hall to meet with officials before the trade show.

The city’s technological interests typically hinge on the current priorities of the City Council, with homelessness and economic development likely to be focal points this year.

“We generally have a good idea of what we want to see before we go,” Sherwood said.

But officials will also walk the exhibit floor in search of the unfamiliar.

On the radar

Autonomous vehicle systems, which have been extensively tested by city officials, who plan to expand pilot programs in the city’s Innovation District, are “extremely important,” according to Sherwood.

The systems are not limited only to driverless vehicles, either. Instead, officials must think about how technology can interact with modern-day vehicles to help drivers traverse streets more efficiently and help traffic movement systems operate more effectively.

“Those are extremely important things from the area of transit and mobility,” he said.

Pedestrian safety and vehicle safety solutions to help prevent injury also are on the city’s radar. That focus bleeds over into internet-connected sensors and camera technology in general. The cameras pick up infrared and do not reveal features of people out of consideration for privacy, according to Sherwood.

And city officials are keen on cybersecurity to ensure that networks are kept safe and wayfinding technology to assist people in getting where they want to go.

“My job is to look out four to five years from now and see what we might want to do,” Sherwood said.

Open invitation

The city’s appetite for so-called smart cities technology was underscored in 2016 when it carved out a broad swath of downtown for its Innovation District, a testing ground for new forms of transit, social infrastructure, alternative energy and more.

Since then, the city’s projects include work with AT&T to test a smart lighting network downtown and piloted technology that sends alerts when a vehicle’s traction control system is triggered and when garbage cans fill up. In September, the city officially launched an 11,000-square-foot co-working space dubbed International Innovation Center @ Vegas.

The center, which is already at capacity, has generated “significant” interest from companies looking to partner with Las Vegas on developing smart technologies, and six international delegations plan to tour the center ahead of CES, a spokeswoman for the center said.

“You can’t take away the fact that we are very blessed to have these types of shows here that allow our staff to be exposed to the technology, to meet with individuals, to learn, which gives us an edge on how we’re able to progress forward,” Sherwood said.

But while CES offers the city access to purveyors of new technologies, the trade show can sometimes highlight the efforts underway in Las Vegas. The city worked with Wi-Fiber to develop that company’s modular, smart street lamp based on the city’s needs, and then the product won a Best of Show award at CES in 2018, according to Sherwood.

Las Vegas’ contrasting summer and winter seasons and its high volume of visitors make conditions ripe for technological testing, he said, enabling the city to operate and learn from pilot projects before scaling up.

Now the city wants more companies to move to downtown Las Vegas as it seeks to establish itself as not only a leader in smart technology but also home base to those behind it.

“I think it’s more of a cultural thing. It’s a natural fit that technology follows the footsteps of what we’re already great at,” Sherwood said, pointing to Las Vegas’ well-known industries such as entertainment and food. “We’re one of the forefront leading cities in efficiency-based technology systems. … I think as a region, we want economic diversity.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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