Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left) speaks with Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham during an event in Markham, Ont. on Friday, July 20, 2018. The City of Markham, Bell Canada and IBM Canada are teaming up to test a new generation of internet-connected systems for monitoring city infrastructure and detecting problems such as storm flooding. Mayor Frank Scarpitti says in a statement that Markham will serve as a “living lab” for technologies that will improve the city’s operating efficiency and enhance services for residents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Markham mayor says city to be a ‘living lab’ for Bell, IBM smart city research

TORONTO — Bell Canada and IBM Canada Ltd. are teaming up with the Toronto-area city of Markham, Ont., to test a new generation of systems for monitoring city infrastructure and detecting problems such as storm flooding.

The six-month research program that starts in April will combine Bell’s broadband networks, IBM data analytics and data from sensors placed in various parts of the city of 355,000 residents, northeast of Toronto.

Similar trials and evaluations are being conducted across Canada and around the world, as an array of vendors promote the potential benefits of using the “smart city” concept to manage costs and improve services.

Mayor Frank Scarpitti said Markham — home to hundreds of domestic and foreign-owned high technology businesses — said the Bell-IBM project is an opportunity to share the costs of sizing up what will work for the city.

“We’ve got two giants in the technology field that are working with us on the pilot project,” Scarpitti said in a phone interview.

But he said the city government will be evaluating whether the investment in staff time and other costs will be worth the effort “given further investments that would have to be made to make it more comprehensive across the city.”

The Markham pilot project will largely focus on behind-the-scenes processes designed to do things such as detecting leaks in city water pipes, storm-related flooding, energy usage in city buildings and remote tracking of city equipment.

Although such things aren’t typically on the mind of citizens, Scarpitti said it’s “critically important to make sure that we can either extend the life or better manage those assets.”

Scarpitti also said he hopes there will be more partnerships with other corporations that tackle issues such as traffic congestion.

The federal government has conducted a “smart cities” challenge to provide millions of dollars in prizes for communities across Canada to encourage communities of all sizes to look at ways of adopting the new technology.

Canada’s major telecommunications companies, including Bell and its rivals, have also invested billions of dollars to build capability to do large-scale data collection with high speed fibre optics and wireless networks.

However, some of their plans may be disrupted by an ongoing debate over the security risks posed by Huawei Technologies Inc. of Shenzhen, China — one of the suppliers used by Bell, Telus and other Canadian telecom carriers.

In addition, the Google-related Sidewalks Labs initiative in Toronto has raised a host of privacy concerns and questions about who will own data collected from the community.

But Scarpitti said he doesn’t foresee a similar problem with the Bell-IBM project, because it will be monitoring the city’s equipment and infrastructure assets.

“It doesn’t involve — unless something changes — any private information of our citizens.”

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