If you told someone 10 years ago that Internet accessibility was a human right, they probably would have looked at you funny. But today, the idea of living Internet-free may be more challenging than ever. It’s how we communicate, how we learn, how we get our news, how we look for work, and for many of us, it’s how we work.
Understanding this, CIVIQ Smartscapes is in the process of delivering wireless Internet networks to a number of cities, while simultaneously making cities smarter by changing the way we interact with those cities.
CIVIQ is a spin out of Comark, a Milford-based Massachusetts company that designs ruggedized displays for computing systems. CIVIQ is the fruit of Comark’s desire to focus more on the smart cities movement – the vision to utilize inter-device communication and the Internet in order to improve urban living.
“As the smart city movement took off, Comark decided that they really needed to focus on this, and it wasn’t their true focus,” CIVIQ President Gerry Burns told us. “They felt that CIVIQ was something they could spin out so they could allow for this level of focus.”
Since being spun out, CIVIQ has acquired both elevate DIGITAL, a developer of street-level interactive software technology, and Vertigo Digital, who designs and manufactures ruggedized digital display solutions. The former is an expert in smart city technology, and the latter focuses largely on Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) technology.
“These three entities being brought together really make CIVIQ who we are today, and the leader in our space,” says Burns.
CIVIQ is creating a number of large, sleek, ruggedized touch displays that can go indoors and outdoors. They are outfitted with everything from free, fast public Wi-Fi to transit information, a camera that can take selfies, and more. One of their primary outdoor devices is called WayPoint, but there are a number of different varieties for different needs.
Burns doesn’t use the word “product” to describe these displays. He prefers “solution.”
“We believe that today, especially in the urban areas and areas concentrated with people, that Wi-Fi has just become a right,” the company’s president explains.
According to CIVIQ, each smart structure’s fiber optic Wi-Fi is “100 times faster than average municipal WiFi. Downloading a two-hour HD movie can take as little as 30 seconds.”
It goes far beyond Wi-Fi, however. Burns says that local governments are primarily concerned with three areas: mobility, safety, and economic development. According to him, CIVIQ Smartscapes can play with all three.
For mobility, the devices are things you can walk up to and interact with. If one is in an area like Faneuil Hall, it can display various points of interest for the area as well as transit information. It can provide public transportation schedules, bike sharing options, and directions to get to where you need to go. Once you get the information you need, CIVIQ can push the data to you over text message, email, or app.
Regarding safety, Burns argues that it’s crucial for these machines to be agnostic and compatible with other smart city technologies and applications. Why is that?
“Let’s say that there’s a gunshot on Main Street. There are technologies now that can pick up that gunshot, like ShotSpotter,” says Burns. “That’s considered a smart city technology, and that sensor can pick up the gunshot. We could not only have that sensor inside of a WayPoint, but we can also integrate the data from all of those devices around the city into the WayPoint and use it as a hub.”
The WayPoint can do two things with that information. The first is that it can secure the data and protect it. The second is that CIVIQ can send this integrated and aggregated data to the appropriate emergency services. Moreover, the WayPoint can turn on its camera to record video footage of where the gunshot was fired, while pushing out an alert to its Wi-Fi users that a firearm was just discharged on Main Street.
“For first responders, one of the biggest problems is that they don’t always know what kind of scene they’re getting themselves into. With this video, we can give them eyes on the scene before they even get there.”
Economically, CIVIQ devices can help municipalities generate income through a revenue sharing advertising model, to offset the costs for deployment of CIVIQ’s solutions and ongoing maintenance.
New York City has deployed over 1,000 of these displays as part of the LinkNYC program, paying for them with advertising revenue alone. New York City’s program will, according to CIVIQ’s website, “Generate more than $500 million in revenue for the City and up to 500 full-time jobs over the next 12 years.”
The question of whether the Internet should be a basic human right is one that we as a society have been chewing on for years and years. If CIVIQ Smartscapes pulls this off, the answer could come sooner than we think.
Images courtesy of CIVIQ Smartscapes.