How New Zealand’s cities are coming together to advance smart sensors

The smart cities collaboration across major cities in New Zealand has become a thing of envy, to others across the Tasman. When I visited the NEC smart cities studio on Wellington last year, I was first introduced to the work being pioneered across the capital, and Auckland city.

As Australia works through its next smart cities wave of planning and deployment, on the back of the Smart Cities and Suburbs program, I imagine we can learn much from our friends in New Zealand. These pilots by the New Zealand cities is truly ‘sensing cities’ work, and will provide case studies for us all to learn from. — Adam Beck


Can you imagine sensors in your city instantly detecting graffiti? Or alerting police when citizens are getting unruly? Sensors in several New Zealand cities can already do that and more — and the technology will soon be spreading across the country.

Sensors providing real-time information have tremendous potential to transform cities by giving operations managers a powerful tool to quickly identify issues and optimize results. The country’s cities are working together to inspire each other and share best practices.

Sensors with nearly all the senses
In Wellington’s Cuba Mall, sensors are able to use several different senses to determine if there’s an emergency. Audio sensors can recognize the sounds of breaking glass and screaming, and will alert the police immediately if it hears them.

The mall’s visual sensors can also recognise shapes, telling the difference between shoppers and beggars. If a beggar is detected, resources from agencies who help vulnerable communities will be dispatched.

Elsewhere in New Zealand, sensors can smell. Some, placed in graffiti-prone areas, can detect the scent of fresh paint.

Meantime in Christchurch, still rebuilding from a devastating earthquake six years ago, the city is making smart sensors a key part of its reconstruction efforts. It’s investing in a variety of sensors in its drive toward becoming a smart city.

Working together
New Zealand cities are now embracing the technology, but they still feel that they are far behind cities like London, which has been relying on sensors for far longer. Councils in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are now working together to share the key benefits of smart cities technologies.

In particular, their partnership is designed to acquire and share more data — data that will improve decision-making and implementation.

This collaboration also spreads risk. When the cities work together, they can pool resources that allow them to “fail fast,” not worrying that any one city will have to suffer the entire consequences of any experiment.

And compared to London and other world cities, New Zealand’s cities are small. But by coming together, they believe they will be better able to attract international talent to drive the next wave of progress.