Sidewalk Labs says the sensor information would also support long-term planning. The data would fuel a virtual model of Quayside, which urban planners could use to test infrastructure changes quickly, at low cost, and without bothering residents. It could also be stored in a shared repository that entrepreneurs and companies could draw on to make their own products and services for Quayside.
Unsurprisingly for a company spawned, in part, by technologists, Sidewalk thinks of smart cities as being rather like smartphones. It sees itself as a platform provider responsible for offering basic tools (from software that identifies available parking spots to location-based services monitoring the exact position of delivery robots), much as Google does with its smartphone operating system, Android. Details are still under discussion, but Sidewalk plans to let third parties access the data and technologies, just as developers can use Google’s and Apple’s software tools to craft apps.
Though Sidewalk Labs says the data would be used for a community purpose, such as giving transit discounts to low-income residents, regulating building temperatures, and keeping trash cans from overflowing, not everyone is convinced. “There are definitely questions about whether Sidewalk Labs will try to make money by tracking people’s daily interactions,” says David Roberts, who studies cities at the University of Toronto. “What data will be collected, how personal will it be, how will it be used, and who will have access to it?”