Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs joins US project to improve urban mobility

Sidewalk Labs, the smart-cities research unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is working with the US Department of Transportation on a new project that will use anonymised data from consumer apps to help cities improve their traffic analytics and work out better ways of moving people and goods around urban areas.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said last week that the federal department was teaming up with Sidewalk Labs and the seven finalists of the ongoing Smart City Challenge. Together, they plan to design a traffic management platform called Flow that can shape city transportation using analytics and citizen engagement.

Foxx explained: “This mobility platform, co-developed with Sidewalk Labs and the seven cities, offers unprecedented city-wide transportation analytics to help cities understand congestion and identify areas underserved by transit, using aggregated, anonymised data from billions of miles of trips, including proprietary data from Google Maps.”

Sidewalk Labs also plans to build 100 kiosks in four neighbourhoods of the Smart City Challenge winner to offer free Wi-Fi access and collect sensor data on things like pedestrian activity, noise levels and air quality.

“We’re taking everything from anonymised smartphone data from billions of miles of trips, sensor data, and bringing that into a platform that will give both the public and private parties and government the capacity to actually understand the data in ways they haven’t before,” said Sidewalk’s chief executive Daniel L. Doctoroff, a former deputy mayor of New York City and former chief executive of Bloomberg, as quoted by the New York Times.

“Huge volumes of data related to travel are already being gathered.  This provides a great opportunity for new businesses to potentially identify new business models.  The more data can be used by more people, the more innovation there will be in business models.” Simon Spooner, partner and ITS expert at Osborne Clarke.

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