This week, brains were installed in 53 city street lights that live near the solitary Peña Station rail stop just south of Denver International Airport. The first autonomous shuttle is expected to move in next month. By March, a device that measures air quality will join the community, high-density Wi-Fi will be turned on and the first series of apartments will break ground in hopes of attracting new life.
Denver’s futuristic smart city, Peña Station Next, is becoming a reality.
“A lot of cities, a lot of communities are doing pieces of this,” said George Karayannis, vice president of CityNow, the smart-city arm of Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co. “Nobody is doing all of this.”
Humans don’t live here yet. And there’s still not much to see on the 400 acres bounded by Peña Boulevard and Tower Road, except for the shiny new — and a bit lonely looking — headquarters of Panasonic, which opened in September. An airport-owned parking lot to the west is covered in solar panels, though it’s not quite ready for cars.
“This is the city’s living lab,” Karayannis said. “They can bring new technology in and try it out at Peña Station, make sure the technology works and the vendors make sense and then create the business model for when and where we scale it in the city. Very few cities have this opportunity to try things before they have to make significant capital decisions. And it’s not so much the capital, but if a city decides to implement the technology, they’re making a 10- to 20-year commitment. You’re locked in. To have this living lab for the city is a phenomenal opportunity.”
Panasonic picked Denver out of 22 finalists for its new headquarters. But beyond the economic impact — a potential $82 million a year, according to government officials — the partnership to build the smartest city in the nation became the prime attraction, said Evan Dreyer, Mayor Michael Hancock’s deputy chief of staff.
“Perhaps the most exciting opportunity for us is to utilize the technology and innovation to address problems with next-generation solutions. That’s where the lab concept comes in,” Dreyer said. “It’s such an amazing opportunity to have a company like Panasonic. Their mission is how do you bring technology to the table and help people’s lives improve.”
Even simple things, such as street lights, are proving to be better when enhanced by technology.