Wake County

Cary is counting on new technology to save money, and make it easier for you to park

Chatham Street in downtown Cary, seen here on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.
Chatham Street in downtown Cary, seen here on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Some day soon, Cary residents could have a high-tech way to communicate with the town when the garbage truck skips their homes, leaving a full bin of trash at the curb.

Instead of calling or emailing customer service, residents could speak to an Amazon Echo Dot and say, “Alexa, tell the town of Cary they missed my trash pickup.”

A work order would be processed, and crews would make a special trip to collect the trash.

Cary, home to tech companies like SAS and Trilliant and a short commute to Research Triangle Park, is experimenting with new technology that aims to make people’s lives easier, save money and use less energy. The Town Hall campus now serves as a living lab for partner companies.

The town is working with Cisco Kinetic for Cities, a program that uses sensors to monitor the location and the number of available parking spaces. Eventually, drivers looking for a place to park downtown could get some help from a mobile app.

Data generated from the program could also let Cary officials know when they should set up additional handicap-accessible parking spaces for special events.

“We want to get information to the right people at the right time, with an app they’re already using,” said Lori Bush, a member of the Town Council who works as an engineer for Cisco.

Cary is also partnering with Trilliant for outdoor “smart lighting,” which can dim at certain times to save energy and brighten to increase public safety. Street lights could also remain dark or dim until a pedestrian or vehicle approaches.

“It’s all about improving services to citizens,” said Nicole Raimundo, chief information officer for Cary’s information technology department. “The more we’re connected to our community, the better service we can provide. We want to make Cary the most desirable place to live in the nation.”

The partnerships are costing the town little money, as companies welcome the chance to try out their products at Town Hall. It’s unclear how much Cary would spend to implement the parking and lighting technology throughout the town.

But town leaders say investing in technology can save money in the long run. About eight years ago, Cary switched to wireless water meters, which officials say will save $25.7 million over 17 years.

“It saved us people, time and money – and homes,” Bush said. “It was the first time citizens saw the value of data.”

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Parking sensors are embedded in the cement floors of a parking garage at the Cary Town Hall campus. Susan Shinn Turner

With a population of 161,000 people, Cary is looking ahead to the most cutting-edge technology.

Terry Yates, the Smart City program manager for Cary, envisions this scenario: You tell your self-driving car to take you to the new downtown park. The car makes its way there, adjusting the route as necessary. Then the car parks in the closest available spot, and the street lights automatically come on as you walk from the car into the park. When you get hungry, you check an app on your phone to determine which food truck has the shortest line.

“We want to be proactive,” Yates said. “We want to improve our staff’s experience and our citizens’ experience.”

He said technology now used inside Town Hall could be used in other buildings, including a new library on Academy Street. Heat maps determine the number of people using Wi-Fi, so officials can predict if more service is needed for special events or meetings.

“Ideally, we want to take the information we learn here and use in other, future facilities,” Yates said.

Cary is also planning to add more electric car-charging stations as more people buy Teslas and other electric vehicles.

“The Tesla story proves the demand for technology, and it gets us thinking how quickly technology changes,” Raimundo says. “If we don’t do some things now, we’ll be stuck behind.”

As for the Amazon Echo Dot loaded with information about the town of Cary? A 10-member citizen committee with test the program.

Susan Shinn Turner writes stories about western Wake County for The News & Observer. Email her at writer35@carolina.rr.com.

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