Building the Toronto of tomorrow

Toronto has been selected to take part in the Urban Pilot Program which aims to bridge the gap between smart tech and property managers
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
By David Maher

Toronto has long been a city open to innovation and change, whether it be culturally or technologically. It’s no surprise then that the city was chosen to take part in the Urban Pilot Program, or UPPlift, which aims to bridge the gap between emergent smart technologies and property managers to enhance a city’s liveability.

The program has enlisted a number of heavyweight companies to get involved, such as Microsoft and QuadReal, as well as startups and elements of the public sector, including the City of Toronto. Mikele Brack, chief executive office of Urban Living Futures and the creator of UPPlift: Toronto, explains that at its core, the program is about making the city a better place to live.

“We identify the issues and challenges of cities and listen to their aspirations for bringing smart technology into their assets. We then match them with innovators and tech that can address those issues and challenges,” she said. “These can range from startups to large corporations. Bosch was part of the program’s latest cohort. They have innovations within their pipeline that are not yet commercial and they need proof of concept in order to commercialize them.”

It is this mutually beneficial bridging purpose that has convinced the large corporations to get on board. Focusing on data-based solutions, the use of sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT), UPPlift aims to make the most of the infrastructure and systems already in place in participating properties to allow them to cope with an increasing population.

“We’re excited to provide the technology, IoT expertise and the support the government, businesses, local institutions and citizens will need as they develop new smart city solutions,” said Rodney Clark, vice president, IoT, Microsoft. “New digital solutions will help Toronto and other cities optimize their operations, engage citizens in new ways, deliver new experiences and make the city an even better place in which to work and live.”

One of Canada’s largest commercial real estate players, QuadReal, was chosen to host a number of UPPlift “test-beds” around the city. They adopted technologies that could improve the experience of people living, working and shopping in their properties, while also promoting innovation, efficiency and productivity.

“One aspect is the customer experience; that could be efficiency or sustainability. It’s really about improving the overall environment and the people using those buildings are obviously a part of that,” said Cheryl Gray, executive vice president, enterprise innovation, with QuadReal. “We created several mandates when we embarked upon this program and we asked the innovators to be thinking about a variety of different things and challenges.”

“We’re excited to be able to give the innovators an opportunity to pilot in our buildings. For us, it’s a way for our teams to look at the innovation and perhaps see things differently,” she added.

One such piece of technology implemented in QuadReal properties was ArgosAI, a digitized data stream used to track a variety of key data points without sensors. The information received from multiple video feeds is digitized to create a single data stream that can be used to count people, monitor space usage, assess advertising impact, as well as automate parking-space management.

Another is Eddy Home. This provides intelligent leak protection and water monitoring, implemented through smart products that protect, control and conserve water. Installed directly on the water main, Eddy Home’s IoT technology provides real-time readings of water consumption, leak detection and remote water shutoff. When leaks are detected, the system automatically shuts off the flow of water to prevent damage.

“We want to provide them with the technology that brings them into the next century,” Brack continued. “Toronto already has lots of historic and modern features and we’re working to bring technology into that to create efficiencies and bring smartness to create better living environments. Making systems work as well as possible, given the latest technology available.”

For property managers, some of the technologies being trialled have the potential to make their lives a lot easier. VSETA is another system QuadReal has implemented. It helps facility managers accurately assess how many people are located in various parts of a building and how they consume services or interact with the building. Custodial teams are then able to manage facilities more efficiently and first responders are better informed in addressing emergencies.

With such an impressive array of innovation on show, Brack finds it impossible to pick a favourite.

“They’re like our children, we don’t have favourites!” she jokes. “You can see from the technologies selected by the City of Toronto that they’re looking at more citywide applications that will help the population in general. They selected things like Intuitive Robotics, which uses AI to help people to place their garbage in the right bin. It’s something that people tend to get wrong, so this helps us make the most of our recycling resources. Then there’s things like the EV charging stations. That’s not new technology, but we don’t have a lot of it in Toronto.”

Through collaboration and innovation, the UPPlift project provides a glimpse into what the future could hold for property managers and tenants alike.

“I have a small company and I’m working with the likes of Microsoft and QuadReal, as well as elements of the public sector like the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO),” Brack said. “We’re large and small firms working together and we all have an interest in making Toronto a better place to live”

David Maher is the online editor of Canadian Property Management.

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