Why Christchurch is betting so heavily on sensors

As ACCANZ continues its collaboration with the Internet of Things Alliance Australia, we learn more every day on the variety of applications emerging across local government, and university campuses, to name a few. Senors and actuators are being deployed at an increasing rate, and connecting them to networks to allow for data analysis and better decision making is the end game many are testing.

In this story we gain an insight into the recent efforts by Christchurch City Council in New Zealand, as it builds its credentials in sensor deployment, and converting data into intelligence through a range of pilot projects that are positioning it as a smart cities leader. — Adam Beck


Teresa McCallum, Smart Cities programme manager for Christchurch, New Zealand, has a job many would love to have.

Since she arrived in 2015, she has been responsible for identifying ways to use technology that will help the city operate more effectively – and do it for less money. And she spends much of her time thinking about sensors, translating her thoughts into pilot projects and managing them.

It's a very straightforward approach. Sensors are deployed in a variety of applications. If they perform their functions well, they remain and may be expanded beyond the limits of the trial.

The concept is far from new in New Zealand. As we reported earlier, several cities in the country are collaborating on advanced sensor projects, supporting each other and sharing their experiences. And Christchurch is one of those cities.

For McCallum, Christchurch is an ideal test bed  for sensors and related technologies. The city is rebuilding after a massive earthquake six years ago and she sees sensors as a way to help with the reconstruction and protect the city in the future. As she told The Star, "We have a chance to do something different that no one else in the country is in a position to do."

So far this year, the Smart Cities programme has spent $610,000, roughly twice what it invested in the 2016 fiscal year. It also obtained $160,000 from Land Information New Zealand, the agency that started the programme.

And the city is doing a lot with the money, including working on an online information hub that will provide residents and visitors. When completed in June, SmartView will provide information about a broad array of topics, from water quality, road work, bus routes and real-time notifications of bus locations to flight information, events and news. McCallum also wants to add a feature that would allow users to find the city's car parks.

The city also is trying out solar-powered rubbish bins that include compactors so they can hold several times more than traditional bins. When they're full, they send an email to contractors. More of the self-compacting bins will be added if they perform as expected during a three-month trial. The city also is gearing up for a pilot with bin sensors that will detect volume, heat and tilt, which make pickup more efficient because contractors will know specifically which bins need to be emptied and which ones get the most use.

And, of course, software that will provide a heat map of city locations that suffer the most damage during an earthquake is being developed. The city also is deploying a seismic monitoring network.

Those are examples of some current projects. But McCallum and the city have several more in mind, including:

  • A sensor network with several different applications, including monitoring air quality, with the information to be fed into SmartView.
  • A flood alert system that will allow the city to monitor rivers in areas of the city prone to flooding.
  • Wi-Fi sensors to monitor pedestrian flow in the central business district.
  • Bluetooth sensors at car parks intended for disabled drivers. Drivers with parking passes would receive a chip that communicates with the sensors. Drivers who don't have the chip would get a visit from parking enforcement.