A small Mississippi city is joining the likes of technology superstars like Kansas City, Mo., and Seattle, testing the waters — however gingerly — of digital connected devices.
Ridgeland, population 24,000, will partner with C Spire, a Mississippi-based Internet provider, to explore the development of “smart” streetlights and traffic signaling that operate according to real-time traffic flow, a move many cities are adopting in an effort to function more efficiently and conserve energy.
C Spire will conduct a two-month test in October and November to experiment with “smart lighting and traffic camera analytics," said Dave Miller, a C Spire spokesman.
“While we’re still working out what’s possible for both applications, one thing we’re hoping to see with smart lighting is what controls or settings can be adjusted to reduce energy usage,” said Miller. “With traffic camera analytics, we’d like to evaluate the application’s ability to identify and alert anomalies such as accidents and perhaps point to better ways to handle traffic flow.”
The company will install some sensors in a handful of streetlights, and test the different functionalities and sensor performance, said Ivy Kelly, technology strategist at C Spire. “Any energy gain we might see out of that, and see what it does and how it works, and see how it impacts our network, and see what value it can bring to Ridgeland.”
Ridgeland's population is relatively affluent, and serves as a suburban community of Jackson, the state’s capital, just to the south. Improved traffic management is often on the minds of policymakers, as the city population swells to about 75,000 on many days, said Mayor Gene F. McGee, citing the appeal of the city’s shopping and other options.
“So yes, we do have traffic issues, so we’re always looking for opportunities to improve traffic controls in the city," he said, "and we thought this would be a great opportunity to work with C Spire to utilize their technology and to see how we might improve the services to our citizens and our guests that come here."
Ridgeland and C Spire's memorandum of understanding for the project does not involve an exchange of money; rather, both sides hope to learn from the experiment.
“We’re allowing them [C Spire] to get on our particular city facilities at no cost,” said McGee. “And of course they’re not charging us anything. Once we get through this process, and we analyze the results of what we’re doing, then we’ll be able to make a determination as to what we want to do, and plan for the future.”
The traffic analytics project will use existing traffic cameras, and feed the data into a dashboard so that it can be more effectively analyzed. Street lights will be outfitted with cellar-enabled modules to be remotely controlled, Miller explained.
“Smart lighting has the potential to reduce energy usage, which in turn reduces the city’s energy bills,” said Miller.
The test project allows C Spire to fine-tune its own smart cities applications, in a way to respond to the needs of small cities like those in Mississippi and other parts of the country.
“I think more of our cities are starting to understand the value of data and data collection in municipal operations, but not many of them have the resources to hire full-time IT staff,” observed Shari Veazey, executive director of the Mississippi Municipal League.
Any city, said Miller, is looking to help its bottom line by working more efficiently and delivering services in more meaningful ways.
“If you look at Mississippi and some of the challenges that our communities have, they’re really kind of ideal candidates for smart city type of solutions to problems and maybe providing more efficient ways and smart ways to dispense services,” he said.
Take Oxford, Miss. — about two hours north and home to the University of Mississippi — which several years ago installed 300 smart parking meters in downtown, which accepted multiple forms of payment. In less than a year, parking revenues topped $500,000.
“This type of experiment with the city of Ridgeland — this first technology trial — is going to give us some key learnings that we hope to be able to apply as we work with other cities and communities across our footprint,” Miller said.
Veazey added that because C Spire is a Mississippi-based company, "we are hoping that this test of smart city is successful and can be available to other cities in Mississippi."
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.