Can Street Sweepers Do More than Just Clean Streets?

Fort Collins, Colo., is experimenting with smart city technology on five of its street sweepers, which send back data related to travel routes, low-hanging limbs or poorly parked cars.

In Fort Collins, Colo., five street sweepers are part of a pilot program to help improve efficiencies and provide more insight into the many miles of streets that they tidy up.

The sensor-equipped vehicles are brushing up debris and serving as data collectors, scooping up information related to low-hanging tree limbs or poorly parked cars.

“A smart street sweeper will have the ability to track data such as routes, data, locations and even identifying issues or obstructions to street sweepers,” explained David Young, public relations coordinator for the city.

The technology is being provided by Rubicon Global, an Atlanta-based technology company focused largely on improving garbage and recycling collection efforts. The company has developed a suite of smart city applications, and is in talks with about 30 cities across the country in places like Atlanta, Santa Fe, N.M., Spokane, Wash., and others.

“We’re using our technology to determine what we call ‘service confirmation,’” said Conor Riffle, director of Smart Cities at Rubicon Global.

“So, whether or not the street was swept in this particular location. Or if not, why it was not swept,” he explained. “Service confirmation is at the core of what our technology does, and that is essentially the problem we are trying to solve and work with Fort Collins to do that.”

The technology could be expanded to other vehicle fleets, he added, listing off garbage trucks, snowplows or lawnmowers.

“At it’s most basic level, we are able to track — or the city is able to track — with our technology, where are all of their assets, their roaming assets. Are they idle? If so, for how long? Are they off-route or on-route? That’s a basic functionality we have,” said Michael Allegretti, chief public strategy officer at Rubicon Global, who was careful to add that the aim of the technology is ultimately to help cities better serve residents, not entrap workers who may be goofing off.

“Yes, it’s important to know if a street was not swept and why it was not swept, because the city needs to provide good service to the citizens, and if someone was monkeying around and not doing their job, that needs to come to light,” said Allegretti.

The technology — which includes visual recognition capabilities — allows officials to “train the apparatus to look for what the city wants to look for,” said Allegretti, and can also assist in ensuring the equitable distribution of resources across all neighborhoods.

“The richest neighborhoods in our country, I would argue, perhaps get better service than the poorer neighborhoods,” said Allegretti. “But the street-sweeping vehicle, the garbage truck, the snow plow, they have to go to every street. And so, we want to help cities ensure that they deliver the same quality of service across every ZIP code.”

“The hope is,” said Young, “the data provided by this smart technology will make our street-sweeping program more efficient and transparent.”

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