Multiyear Effort To Turn Gainesville Into A ‘Smart City’ To Progress With Smart Bench Pilot Project

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A four-year long conversation was continued Monday in a City of Gainesville Digital Access Committee meeting.

The meeting served as an update on the projects the committee has been working on, so no new decisions were made.

The Digital Access Committee aims to address digital divides among residents in Gainesville. Over the years, they have proposed multiple projects that work toward this goal, including an effort to provide high-speed, low-cost internet access for local businesses and residents.

Sheyla Santana, Smart City Coordinator for the City of Gainesville, outlined the projects the committee has been focusing on at Monday’s meeting.

One of these projects is the creation of a hands-on tech center for students in the area. This would provide Gainesville youth with hands-on experience in science and technology.

The center would have internet and computer access as well as opportunities for job and career training. Santana said a proposed location for this center is in the Porter’s Community Center.

The center would feature robotics and programming opportunities, a 3D printer, drone and self-driven car technology, and a computer lab.

Another of these projects is the addition of smart benches in Gainesville, part of a years-long initiative to turn Gainesville into a “smart city.”

Smart city refers to an urban area that uses different electronic methods and sensors to collect data. This data is then used to manage city resources and services more efficiently.

Smart benches typically include USB charging ports and are solar powered. They sometimes also use sensors to collect data on how many people pass by and weather trends. However, Santana discussed several other features that could come with them.

These include a Wi-Fi hot spot, LED lights, a button to contact emergency services, a USB charger, a bike repair tool kit, and a screen to display city resources.

The committee is currently looking at several manufacturer options for the smart bench, Santana said. As the concept of bringing smart benches to Gainesville continues to be developed, they are expected to be set up for a trial period in July.

Commissioner David Arreola was in favor of bring smart benches to Gainesville and said he thinks the benches are a good first step toward Gainesville becoming a smart city.

“It’s something that I’d like this commission to leave as a legacy for future commissions,” Arreola said. “Because I think it’s about getting that first foot in the door for smart city technology.”

The committee is also working toward providing free Wi-Fi in Lynch Park, the Porter’s Community, and Depot Park.

These areas will be part of a phase one pilot project which will most likely begin in July, Santana said.

Commissioner Harvey Ward expressed frustration with the lack of action since the smart city conversation first began in 2017.

“I have, and I’m sure the rest of you have, been telling people in the community about this for years now,” Ward said. “When you have four years of conversation about it, it ceases to be credible.”

Gigi Simmons agreed, saying decisions need to be made soon before technology advances and prices increase.

“This committee needs to take the lead and start these more aggressive conversations,” Simmons said.

Sheyla Santana, Smart City Coordinator for the City of Gainesville, presented a rendered image of what the hands-on tech center might look like. (Photo courtesy by Sheyla Santana)

About Sarah Mandile

Sarah is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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