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San Francisco Aims to Build Biggest Internet of Things in the U.S.

The city plans to mount sensors on public infrastructure as a tool for attracting business and gathering data for city employees.

The southern part of the Bay Area might have Facebook, Google and Apple, but San Francisco is building the biggest Internet of Things (IoT) sensor network in the country.

The city announced the project Friday, leaving possible applications for the sensors open — though it didn’t announce any specific uses for its IoT, a city press release said that it will present business opportunities to the Bay’s high-tech community.

“It presents opportunities for entrepreneurs, start-ups and city departments to explore services and products that meet customer or constituent needs,” the press release reads.

The city is turning to SIGFOX, which has already launched similar networks in Europe, to provide the sensors, and the Department of Technology will install them. SIGFOX has plans to establish an IoT in 10 American cities beginning with San Francisco. The sensors will be mounted on municipal property across the city, largely public libraries.

In the statement, San Francisco CIO Miguel Gamiño said that the network will add to the city’s attractions for both residents and businesses. The city already has a free Wi-Fi network along Market Street, at its libraries, and in 33 public parks and spaces.

The city has yet to identify specific uses for the network, but other cities have found multiple applications for the Internet of Things. The Argonne National Laboratory is in the process of setting up a project called the “Array of Things” in Chicago, which will track pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and climate information. That will allow pedestrians to identify the walking paths with the least amount of smog and motorists to avoid congested areas, and will create data sets that can show city planners how people move around Chicago.

The Array of Things has the potential to be applied to problems its creators haven’t even thought of yet, but other sensor networks have been established for specific tasks. Pennsylvania is installing a series of upgraded road weather monitors that can tell the friction level on roads along with basic weather information like temperature and humidity. New York City received a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation last month to connect its municipal fleet with infrastructure like traffic lights, which will allow the city to improve traffic safety by using data to better time traffic signals — among other things.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.