Bill Gates is no stranger to future technology. From investing in projects to turn sewage into clean water, to investing in new curriculum for U.S. schools, to investing in the fight against diseases like Alzheimer’s and HIV/AIDS, the entrepreneur and billionaire is constantly trying to utilize technology to improve the world. This time it seems he has his sights set on the smart city.
Bill Gates’ investment group Cascade Investment LLC has purchased $80 million worth of real estate in Belmont, Arizona, near the White Tank Mountains, according to azcentral:
Few people live in the area now, but plans for Belmont call for as many as 80,000 homes, 3,800 acres of industrial, office and retail space, 3,400 acres of open space and 470 acres for public schools, according to Arizona-based Belmont Partners, the real estate developer behind the project.
It’s great news for proponents of the Internet of Things and how it will lead to smart cities. A smart city, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is a geographical area that is driven by IoT applications. Cars, traffic lights, advertisements, the electrical grid – any everyday device can be fitted with sensors to collect data and react in real time.
For example, if an accident occurs, sensors will see that it has occurred and send a warning to self-driving cars to avoid the route. If no one is on a street in the middle of the night, the lights will go out, and if someone walks down the road they will turn on for them. Sensors will detect a leak in pipes far underground, shut off flow to that pipe if possible, and alert the public works department of the problem. Extend that to literally anything and everything.
That seems to be the plan for this area in Arizona:
The community offers a “nearly blank slate of opportunity,” Gammage said in a statement. The vision calls for it to be a sustainable city capitalizing on cutting-edge infrastructure. designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs.
I’m particularly interested in the development because of the potential for things to go right. Call me a pessimist, but judging by failing infrastructure, delayed projects, and lack of adoption, I’d prefer to have private firms handle the experimentation of smart cities over the government. Private firms have need to get it right in order to turn a profit, or else the entire city will be a failure. The government is still trying to figure out healthcare and taxes.
And for one of the major private firms investing in the area to be connected to Bill Gates is cause for confidence in the future of the project. His personal home boasts technology that can easily extend to smart cities. Guests are given an electronic pin when they enter to clip to their clothes, which connects them to the electronic services in the house. It holds sensors that allow guests to monitor a room’s climate and lighting, display screens that can be customized, and the house learns preferences and adjusts automatically to guest needs. The most impressive part is that he build it in the mid-90s, long before the commonplace IoT items of the past couple years entered the fray.
Many agree that smart cities are the way of the future, but before we get there we need to refine them so that they work. I’m excited that someone with the technological pedigree of Bill Gates will be at the forefront of developing them.
Update: Henry Graber at Slate wrote an article that argues Gates will not be involved with the project, and the city won’t even end up being a smart city. While he makes solid points, the lack of evidence that Gates will be involved does mean that Gates will not be involved. And the fact that the developer never used the term “Smart City” does not preclude that they plan on building a smart city. Still, Graber makes a good case for why we shouldn’t connect the dots. I just believe the dots are connected.