How Providence Rhode Island is Using Mesh Networks To Become A ‘Smart City’

“With Providence2Go and the establishment of a Smart City program, we knew it’s got to be cheap, it’s got to be easy to use,” says Jack Chen, Co-Founder and CEO of Loud-Hailer.

This past year saw the Smart Cities concept moving from theoretical to practical and actual as municipalities from New York to San Francisco began expanding the use of connected street furniture, support for electric cars, and placing sensors in public transportation to develop safer traffic condition.

But for the most part, those use cases are fairly confined to specific kinds of programs, usually involving digital out of home ads or pilot programs along limited bus routes.

Last month, Providence, RI began partnering with hyperlocal tech company Loud-Hailer to launch its “Connected City” app, Providence2GO.

The app allows local businesses and public facilities operators to communicate with users via Bluetooth-connected mesh networks.

“While the idea of using an app to look something up isn’t new, Loud-Hailer’s technology revolutionizes the process. Gone are the days of needing to open and close a variety of apps, login multiple times, or wonder about cell service when exploring a city,” says Jack Chen, co-founder and CEO of Loud-Hailer. “With the Providence2GO app, you can see what is available around you with one tap. Our technology works with Bluetooth Low Energy, so users will always be able to access the app and get valuable information when walking around Providence, starting with the historic downtown area.”

Among the entities participating in Loud-Hailer’s Providence2Go include Roger Williams University, non-profit arts organization WaterFire, dance studio AS220, the City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism, Providence Public Library, real estate agency Marsella Properties, State of Rhode Island Office of Innovation, a boutique called Queen of Hearts, VP Fitness, Blake’s Tavern, and Rhode Tour.

“Loud-Hailer’s technology and platform allows us to be creative in the way we reach students past basic e-mails” says Adriana Dawson, Assistant Dean, Center for Workforce & Professional Development at Roger Williams University, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Loud-Hailer and Providence2GO and know it will truly complement and enhance campus engagement in a way that will continue to grow.”

As Kingston, NY-based Loud-Hailer looks to 2018, the company is already in talks with Columbus, Ohio and Sacramento, Ca. to set up a similar Smart City program. At the center of Loud-Hailer’s technology is the use of mesh networks, which allows for communications to occur without a carrier involved.

“We’re creating digital connections,” Chen tells GeoMarketing. “By that, I mean, if I were trying to send you an email, the typical process depends on a connection from my carrier, to my server, to your server, to your carrier, down to your device. And that doesn’t matter how far we are.

“But with Loud Hailer’s technology, we’re creating that direct connection between the two of us — we don’t need a carrier,” he adds. “We don’t need to care about whether the server’s running. And Loud-Hailer software is on both of our devices when we download the app. But other than that, Loud Hailer doesn’t even have to be there. And so, imagine then, being able to connect literally directly to other people and to organizations as you make your way throughout the city.”

Not having to worry about extra charges is something that is key for the adoption of Smart City programs, Chen says, because of the various levels of bureaucracy that is naturally involved with any government program. That said, while DOOH  and automotive companies have been actively spearheading Smart City initiatives, Chen makes the case that, despite all the complexity, municipal governments is the best way to build a broad program.

“I think working with cities at the beginning are a better partner than brands might think, from an infrastructure perspective, in terms of the way they can they use a Smart City paradigm to support the small local businesses,” Chen says. “And because of that, it’s got to be cheap. It’s got to be easy to use. And one that doesn’t require heavy infrastructure investment because otherwise then you get tied up into years of bureaucracy and budget approvals and nobody wants to raise taxes. We’re committed to sorting through all that as we work to support the idea of Smart Cities.”

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