At just under one year old, Alphabet-owned Sidewalk Labs, has made a name for itself for its audacious proposals on how to create smarter cities--one of which, reportedly, involves building a new, high-tech city from the ground up.
Now, new documents obtained by The Guardian, reveal just exactly how Sidewalk Labs wants to transform cities--and in particular, the way that people get around them. In the near future, it could become easier to snag an Uber (and also get a parking ticket).
These details were pulled from emails and documents from cities involved in the U.S. Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge. As part of the challenge, the seven finalist cities would work with Sidewalk Labs to offer their input on what they would like Sidewalk Labs' Flow software platform to look like, and how cities could use the data provided by Flow.
The platform, which the company announced in March, will collect transportation data from a number of sources, including Google Maps. The hope is that cities could then use this information to identify parking and traffic congestion in real time. They could also identify areas that are underserved by certain types of transportation.
Some of the projects that Sidewalk Labs is interested in researching, according to The Guardian, include handing out subsidies for low-income citizens to catch a ride from car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. There's an "optimized parking enforcement" feature that would use Artificial Intelligence to determine the routes parking cops could make the most money. There's also "virtualized parking," which would allow companies and citizens to rent out private parking spaces. A marketing document from Sidewalk claimed that virtualized parking in particular would be a "public relations winner."
The big question that remains is how much control cities are willing to (and should) give Sidewalk Labs. For example, the company is also interested in giving people a way to pay in Google Maps to use a variety of transportation services (ride-sharing services, buses, Citi Bikes).
"This idea makes sense in general," Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab at MIT, told The Guardian. "It is important however, that such a platform be open to multiple players."
When asked for comment, Sidewalk Labs emphasized that it is focused on working with cities throughout the design process, and values their input.
"Flow is about using data and analytics to help cities work with their citizens to increase the efficiency of road, parking, and transit use, improving access to mobility for all," Anand Babu, COO of Sidewalk Labs, said in a statement.
Alphabet isn't the only company looking to overhaul cities--Y Combinator announced yesterday that it is launching a $100 million research lab to solicit proposals from researchers on how to build better urban policy proposals. But both will first need cities to work with to implement their ambitious ideas.
Rory McGuinness is optimistic about his city, Columbus, Ohio, being selected as DoT's Smart City Challenge winner. The deputy director of the city's Department of Development told The Guardian that the city sees "real value" in Sidewalk Labs' work.