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Do 'smart cities' begin with smart homes?

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Louisville tests it out 

Amazon Echo smart speaker Amazon

When you hear “smart city,” the first things to come to mind are probably sexy infrastructural innovations like networked fleets of self-driving cars or gleaming WiFi-connected displays that tell you everything you’d want to know at any given moment. While these are very real scenarios, the smart city of the future could start at a whole lot smaller scale than you think—how about with a device on your kitchen table?

In recent months, the city of Louisville has been working with local civic data groups and volunteer developers to experiment with ways to connect city data to smart home products found in folks’ homes. The technology playing a big role in these efforts so far? You won’t be surprised to learn it’s Alexa, Amazon’s breakout AI assistant that’s capable of learning thousands of “skills” deployed through voice commands.

As CNET details, one of the skills Louisvillians can now add to their Alexa-enabled devices (like the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot) are “daily flash briefings” from Mayor Greg Fischer himself. Another Alexa skill tells you when the next junk pick up is in your neighborhood.

The city and developers are also making use of IFTTT, an online service that lets you control a bunch of other digital services in if-this-then-that-style “recipe” commands. For example, one recent project uses IFTTT to program Phillips Hue smart light bulbs so that they’ll change color if the city issues an ozone alert.

For a closer look at how these projects work in the context of a home, check out this video overview, set in the CNET Smart Apartment in Louisville, a dedicated space for testing out home tech suitable for apartment renters (much like the larger scale CNET Smart Home).

Michael Schnuerle, Louisville’s first data officer, has acknowledged that the success of these smart city efforts will first and foremost rely on accessibility for all, whether that’s in terms of reliable high-speed internet or smart home devices people can actually afford. But all this provides an exciting peek into how granular a “smart city” can become. Stay tuned.