Osceola County, Fla., Invests in Smart Sensor Research

The Osceola County Commission has authorized up to $67.5 million in bonds to help fund a research center to develop smart sensors.

Osceola County, Fla., has approved the sale of revenue bonds to help develop a research center that will work on smart sensor technology for cars and appliances.

The Osceola County Commission authorized issuing up to $67.5 million in sales tax revenue bonds to build the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center. The facility will be operated by the University of Central Florida (UCF), which will chip in $10 million to help design and construct the building and lease it for 30 years.

County Commissioner Mike Harford told the Orlando Sentinel that the county is “committed to the technological diversity” of its economy and cited the investment as a step in that direction.

Cities have been jumping on the sensor data bandwagon for some time now. For example, Chicago recently announced that it will install a network of 40 sensors to discover how new data sets can help influence decisions on where to live. Other governments are using sensor data to help make parking more efficient, measure water levels and improve other quality-of-life factors.

In an interview with Government Technology, Harford said he feels smart sensors will provide the community with data it has not been able to look at previously. He added that the challenge will be in how the data will be handled.

“There is public good in knowing the quantity and type of vehicles that travel those public spaces including the cost currently being paid by the public that subsidize the private interest,” Harford said.

Speaking only for himself, Harford noted that having a 30-year agreement in place with UCF played “a very important part” in his thoughts and decision regarding the investment.

The Sentinel reported the total project cost could hit $270 million before the center opens its doors in late 2016. The Florida High Tech Corridor Council and Enterprise Florida are also committing funding to the project.

In addition to sensor development, the new facility will double as home to the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research, a partnership between industry, government and academia to further other technical developments.

When asked about privacy concerns stemming from machine-to-machine communication and sensor data collection, Harford was optimistic that constituents would see the value in the new project. But he said the big brother nature of sensor data is a debate that will likely continue in the years ahead.

“I would like to believe that most people want to see progress in our human development and more data provides the information for simple, rational decision-making,” Harford said. “The key will be defining how the data is used, who owns the data and can the data be disguised so as not to reveal the human generating the data, while still providing the beneficial information.”

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.