TECH FIRM BRINGS BIG IDEAS TO TOWN

O∞cials beam­ing over fu­tur­is­tic mix of tech­nol­ogy near DIA

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ta­mara Chuang

Smart city Peña Station Next is a test­ing ground for Pana­sonic. Smart street lights, an au­tonomous shut­tle, above, and apart­ments are in the works for ligh­trail stop.

Three days ago, brains were in­stalled in 53 city street lights that live near the soli­tary Peña Station light rail stop just south of Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port. The first au­tonomous shut­tle is ex­pected to move in next month. By March, a de­vice that mea­sures air qual­ity will join the com­mu­nity, high-den­sity Wi-Fi will be turned on and the first se­ries of apart­ments will break ground in hopes of at­tract­ing new life.

Den­ver’s fu­tur­is­tic smart city, Peña Station Next, is be­com­ing a re­al­ity.

“A lot of cities, a lot of com­mu­ni­ties are do­ing pieces of this,” said Ge­orge Karayan­nis, vice pres­i­dent of Ci­tyNow, the smart-city arm of Pana­sonic En­ter­prise So­lu­tions Co. “No­body is do­ing all of this.”

Humans don’t live here yet. And there’s still not much to see on the 400 acres bounded by Peña Boule­vard and Tower Road, ex­cept for the shiny new — and a bit lonely look­ing — head­quar­ters of Pana­sonic, which opened in Septem­ber. The com­pany’s park­ing lot is cov­ered in so­lar pan­els, though it’s not quite ready for cars.

But the un­de­vel­oped prop­erty close to tran­sit and the air­port was a prime rea­son Pana­sonic picked Den­ver. The Ja­panese tech­nol­ogy gi­ant wanted a place to ex­per­i­ment with so­lar power and re­new­able en­ergy, au­tonomous ve­hi­cles and other tech­nolo­gies. And it needed a pub­lic part­ner and com­mu­nity sup­port. It found that in Den­ver, DIA, Xcel En­ergy, de­vel­oper LC Fu­len­wider and many oth­ers.

“This is the city’s liv­ing lab,” Karayan­nis said. “They can bring new tech­nol­ogy in and try it out at Peña Station, make sure the tech­nol­ogy works and the ven­dors make sense and then cre­ate the busi­ness model for when and where we scale it in the city. Very few cities have this op­por­tu­nity to try things be­fore they have to make sig­nif­i­cant cap­i­tal de­ci­sions. And it’s not so much the cap­i­tal, but if a city de­cides to im­ple­ment the tech­nol­ogy, they’re mak­ing a 10- to 20-year com­mit­ment. You’re locked in. To have this liv­ing lab for the city is a phe­nom­e­nal op­por­tu­nity.”

Pana­sonic picked Den­ver out of 22 fi­nal­ists for its new head­quar­ters. But be­yond the eco­nomic im­pact — a po­ten­tial $82 mil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment of­fi­cials — the part­ner­ship to build the smartest city in the na­tion be­came the prime at­trac­tion, said Evan Dreyer, Mayor Michael Hancock’s deputy chief of staff.

“Per­haps the most ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity for us is to uti­lize the tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion to ad­dress prob­lems with next-gen­er­a­tion so­lu­tions. That’s where the lab con­cept comes in,” Dreyer said. “It’s such an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity to have a com­pany like Pana­sonic. Their mis­sion is how do you bring tech­nol­ogy to the ta­ble and help peo­ple’s lives improve.”

Even sim­ple things, such as street lights, are prov­ing to be bet­ter when en­hanced by tech­nol­ogy.

“You get all kinds of cost ef­fi­cien­cies and safety ben­e­fits from im­prov­ing light­ing,” Dreyer said.

Mov­ing to LED street lights gives cities a 65 to 70 per­cent de­crease in monthly en­ergy bills for street lights, said Ryan Cit­ron, a re­search an­a­lyst with Nav­i­gant Re­search who tracks smart cities. While the ini­tial in­vest­ment can be hefty, “most of those pro­grams pay for them­selves in three years and from then on, they’re sav­ing 65 to 70 per­cent a year,” he said. “It’s prob­a­bly at the top of the list for smart-city de­ploy­ment.”

The 53 street lights were out­fit­ted Thurs­day with LED bulbs and in­ter­net-of-things net­work­ing tech­nol­ogy, the brains. The lights can be con­trolled re­motely, though for this ex­per­i­ment, the main con­trol cen­ter is inside Pana­sonic’s build­ing. Pana­sonic also chose four smart street light ven­dors to test be­cause “our job is to cu­rate the best of breed,” Karayan­nis said.

The con­nected lights in­stantly no­tify cities when a light is out. They strive for “deep en­ergy sav­ings” by dim­ming them­selves fur­ther when there is ex­cess am­bi­ent light, like from a full moon. They can be reg­u­larly dimmed from mid­night to 4 a.m. when few peo­ple are around so the city can test for max­i­mum en­ergy and eco­nomic sav­ings.

Smart lights can also help in an emer­gency. The lights can flash or turn into a way light to guide peo­ple to safety.

“If your city had smart street lights, you have that abil­ity to think dif­fer­ently,” Karayan­nis said. “When you can think dif­fer­ently, now the light pole is an as­set. And it’s a rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing as­set that can now sup­port smart park­ing, en­vi­ron­men­tal sens­ing, com­mu­nity Wi-Fi and pub­lic safety in a way that has never been pos­si­ble be­fore. That’s what is so im­por­tant about ty­ing this all to­gether. Ev­ery city wants to do that. No city is close ex­cept for Den­ver be­cause of the stake­hold­ers. The city of Den­ver, Xcel, DIA, we’re all work­ing to­gether.”

Peña Station Next is based on Fu­ji­sawa, the Ja­panese smart city built on the site of an old Pana­sonic factory. Residents rely on so­lar en­ergy by day, and fuel cells and bat­ter­ies at night. Few peo­ple own cars be­cause pub­lic tran­sit and shared ve­hi­cles are avail­able. Cam­eras are ev­ery­where and rec­og­nize who lives in town — and who doesn’t.

Sta­cie Gil­more, Den­ver’s District 11 coun­cil­woman who rep­re­sents the neigh­bor­hood, said she has vis­ited Fu­ji­sawa and felt the tech­nol­ogy was eye-open­ing, though not all would trans­late well in Amer­ica.

“Cam­eras on street lights? There’s a cer­tain amount of pri­vacy that we all want to feel like we have,” Gil­more said. “But the tech­nol­ogy (lets par­ents al­low) a child go to a play­ground and play and they can see them (re­motely). We’ll have to be con­sid­er­ate of what peo­ple like and don’t like and how to move for­ward.”

Peña Station Next will also have tech­nol­ogy Fu­ji­sawa doesn’t. An en­vi­ron­men­tal sen­sor de­vel­oped by Ar­gonne Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory ar­rives in the next month or so. Dubbed “the Fit­bit for cities,” this de­vice mon­i­tors air par­ti­cles, so­lar cloud cov­er­age, noise, tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity. Also, it can count cars and peo­ple to help with park­ing and traf­fic flow.

And where car shar­ing is the main ve­hi­cle of choice in Fu­ji­sawa, Peña Station Next will get its first driver­less shut­tle in Jan­uary. De­vel­oped by EasyMile in France, the elec­tric EZ10 shut­tle seats about a dozen, runs at speeds up to 15 mph and is com­pletely au­tonomous. The ve­hi­cle will shut­tle peo­ple to and from the tran­sit station and Pana­sonic. EasyMile also plans to open its North Amer­i­can head­quar­ters inside Pana­sonic’s fa­cil­ity.

Fund­ing for the project comes from var­i­ous pub­lic and pri­vate sources. The smart elec­tric­ity grid — pro­vid­ing Pana­sonic’s build­ing with so­lar en­ergy in the day, bat­tery power at night — is part of an Xcel En­ergy ex­per­i­ment. Pana­sonic is pay­ing for the bat­ter­ies. De­vel­oper L.C. Fu­len­wider is oversee­ing the mas­ter plan and work­ing to get ho­tels, re­tail­ers and com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment to the project.

Ferd Belz, Fu­len­wider’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent, said Den­ver-based mul­ti­fam­ily de­vel­oper MGL Part­ners will be­gin con­struc­tion of a 219-unit apart­ment project af­ter the first of the year. Rents for oneto three-bed­room apart­ments (av­er­ag­ing 725 to 1,150 square feet) are ex­pected to be “mid- to low-price” for the area, Karayan­nis said.

The apart­ments, lo­cated east of Pana­sonic, should be close to move-in ready by Oc­to­ber, when the U.S. Depart­ment of En­ergy holds its So­lar De­cathlon com­pe­ti­tion and fes­ti­val on the prop­erty. Pana­sonic is help­ing with that event too.

“Pana­sonic is not only a tech­nol­ogy part­ner, we are an in­vestor,” Karayan­nis last week told po­ten­tial part­ners who had come to hear how this former ranch land will be trans­formed into a fes­ti­val space by Oc­to­ber and then morph into a car­bon-neu­tral city with re­tail, restau­rants, hous­ing and lim­ited park­ing. “This is 400 of the smartest acres in the coun­try. That’s a very high bar. We know how high it is and we know how to clear it.”

Pro­vided by Pana­sonic

An em­ployee from Guar­an­tee Elec­tric in­stalls en­ergy-ef­fi­cient LED bulbs and smart-net­work­ing tech­nol­ogy in one of 53 street lights at Peña Station Next, a smart city be­ing de­vel­oped near DIA. Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Cour­tesy of Pana­sonic

Dubbed the “Fit­bit for cities,” the Ar­ray of Things mon­i­tors an area’s health. The bee­hive-look­ing de­vice, de­vel­oped by Ar­gonne Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory, col­lects re­al­time data on en­vi­ron­ment, in­fra­struc­ture and ac­tiv­ity.

Cour­tesy of Peña Station Next

This artist’s ren­der­ing cap­tures Peña Station Next, a planned com­mu­nity be­ing de­vel­oped near Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port and an­chored by the new Pana­sonic cam­pus.

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