Technology and Towns

Visioning the Future Disruptions

ARTICLE | Nov 27, 2017

By John Elsesser and Tim Liptrap

As we rocket toward a "jetsonesque" future, local governments are faced with the disruptive changes to the status quo. Localities must make time to spot trends and prepare for and embrace the new technologies emerging before them.

For the past seven years, the Connecticut Town & City Management Association has invited us to present a workshop on future technology, and how it will disrupt, engage, and change the way communities do business.

During the years, we have conducted demonstrations with drones, Google Glasses, wireless tools, smartphone applications, body cameras, solar products, social media technologies, 3D printing, and live-feed software before any of these became common place.

The 2017 workshop was no different in presentation; however, the new technology soon to be available both amazed and bewildered managers who were in the audience.

The platform for smart technology has been built. In the United States, we have instant communication software, 4G wireless infrastructure with 5G under construction, GPS mapping, smartphone technology, updated satellite imagery, affordable cloud servers, powerful computing power, and reliable and renewable power sources; plus, the tools, software, motors, and machinery to access all of these at once.

The result: In 2018 and beyond, managers will see high-tech evolutions in their communities coming from new power sources, drone technology, and artificial intelligence. We also are getting hints of the volume of metadata on our communities, on who we are, and on what our preferences are.

Power Sources

In the case of an emergency, wouldn't it be nice to be able to charge your cellphone, tablet, and radio within minutes versus hours? Or, extending the life of your car or phone batteries by three times? The race to develop a replacement for the lithium-Ion battery is on.

Leading the race is a revolutionary new battery that has been developed by Professor John Bannister Goodenough from the University of Texas (http://bit.ly/2eIsBvk). His solid-state sodium battery is safer, cheaper, and holds a charge three times longer than the original lithium-ion battery.

These will power electric cars, vehicles, phones, lighting, and tools that run on charged batteries. Similar high-powered batteries are currently being tested by Toyota and BMW in their new vehicles.

It will lead to new electric power tools, landscaping equipment, and when tied to solar power, to remote parks for safety and security. The next generation of batteries will advance new forms of transportation, including electric scooters and bikes, water sports, and even air-borne vehicles.

Drone Technologies

Will your pizza be delivered by air this year? Probably not. But, if you live in Greenwich, England, you may need to share the sidewalk with a six-wheel delivery drone from Just Eat as it delivers meals door-to-door. Do local governments have the policies in place to regulate coolers trucking down the sidewalks?

In 2017, the application of drone technologies is evolving into such municipal uses as the "goosebuster" drone being tested in Canada, which chases geese away from parks, playgrounds, ponds, and golf courses.

If you want to tend the bushes in parks, then the Franklin Robots garden robot will provide micro nutrients, pruning of branches, chasing animals, or eradicating pests in your landscapes. If robots weed on a Sunday, is that grounds for a union grievance?

This is not all. Your expensive firework shows may be replaced with the Intel "shooting star" (http://intel(.ly/2xMf76b) drone fleet. This fleet has up to 500 illumined drones that have produced choreographed spectacular light shows at Vivid Sydney (Sydney Youth Orchestra), the Disney Starbright Holiday Show, and the Coachella Music Festival.

The next generation of drones is being developed to remotely sense things like invasive species to allow the development of impact and treatment plans. Towns already are dealing with the impact of the recreational users of drones. Note: The Association of California Cites has crafted a checklist to craft a drone ordinance at https://icma.org/documents/ultimate-checklist-creating-model-drone-ordinance.

Artificial Intelligence

Google, Uber, and Tesla are among the companies building and testing autonomous vehicles that use artificial intelligence. We are now watching driverless vehicles being tested in the desert, on city streets, and in the air. In 2017, partnerships between motor companies and services have developed vehicles that you might see on your streets in 2018.

Local Motors has partnered with IBM Watson in developing Olli (http://bit.ly/2wCs8Rf), which is an ADA accessible, driverless bus. Olli is on the roads in Washington, D.C., and soon to be in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada, where it will pick up riders and deliver them to shopping centers, doctors' appointments, and senior centers.

Ford and Dominos are testing a pizza delivery system in Michigan, and Otto, which is owned by Uber, has developed and is testing six driverless 18-wheel trucks in California to move freight on the highways. Are driverless snowplows and roadside mowers in the future?

Metadata

Towns must continually ask themselves: "Who do we think we are?" New tools are emerging of publicly available data from such sources as Esri and Facebook Insights to help answer this important question.

In Coventry, Connecticut, author Liptrap conducted a series of three workshops sponsored by the Coventry Economic Development Commission to help small local businesses learn who their customers are and how to find them. All towns must help their small businesses compete in the world, or they will be lost in the giant Amazon marketplace.

Metadata also will help guide strategic planning of community needs, wants, and willingness to support them. We, as managers, need to know this information or we will become disconnected from our communities. Others will cherry pick this data and use it for their own marketing purposes. Do you want others to define who you or your communities are?

As the smart technology platform becomes more integrated in your area, these smart technologies will become part of your everyday life. Looking toward 2020, we see sharing services become mainstream with cars, tools, and housing.

Home robotics also will take over such mundane tasks as cooking, cleaning, and yard work; while driverless cars and vans will deliver kids to their sport practices.

The future is closer than we think, and managers must take the time to develop their vision of what it can be to help shape the outcome and make sure the disruptions have positive outcomes.

John Elsesser is town manager, Coventry, Connecticut (jelsesser@coventryct.org), and Tim Liptrap is management professor, Nichols College, Dudley, Massachusetts (Tim.Liptrap@nichols.edu).

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