Smart city: Bluetooth sensors on disabled car parks

Over the past year, the city council has been trying to make Christchurch more tech savvy through the Smart Cities programme. Bridget Rutherford takes a look at what the team has been working on

Teresa McCallum reckons she’s got the best job in the world. She is trying to make the city more tech savvy, and a safer and better place to live and visit.

Since November 2015, she has been the city council’s Smart Cities programme manager. Her role is to come up with new ways of doing things through technology that will both improve the way the city operates and save money. But it’s not done in the conventional way that city council’s normally work. She comes up with the ideas, develops them and carries out ‘proof of concept’ trials. They don’t write long reports or do public consultation – they simply trial them cheaply and see whether they work. If so, they will become permanent.

Smart Cities spent $315,000 in the 2016 financial year, and got $165,000 in funding from Land Information New Zealand, which initiated the programme.So far this financial year, it has spent $610,000, and recieved $160,000 from LINZ. The programme is also being carried out in Auckland and Wellington.

But Ms McCallum said due to the earthquakes and the rebuild, Christchurch is the perfect place to trial these concepts. “We have a chance to do something different that no one else in the country is in a position to do.”


Wouldn’t it be great to have an online hub where you could go to get all the information you need about Christchurch? That’s exactly what Smart Cities has been working on. SmartView, which is hoped to be up and running by June, is a website where you can find out anything about the city, including water quality, weather, recent earthquakes, air quality, road works, bus routes with live locations of where the bus is, travel times, flight information, activities, events and news. Soon Ms McCallum wants to include a section where you could find every car park in the city – and what ones are free.


It may seem small, but overflowing rubbish bins make up a lot of the city council’s complaints. Smart Cities has been trialling two ‘big belly’ bins in New Brighton for rubbish and recycling. They are solar panelled and can hold six times the amount of rubbish than normal bins because they self-compact. When they are full, they send an email to contractors to empty them, and they also stop the seagulls from getting into them. If the three-month trial proves successful, more bins may be rolled out.


Electronic touch screen kiosks are being developed which would be placed in different parts of the city to provide residents and tourists with information. It is likely they will have SmartView loaded on them. They have three different dimensions so kids, people in wheelchairs and taller people can all reach the screen. The team is still working out locations and how many they would create.

Bin Level Sensors

Along with the SmartRubbish trial, Smart Cities is also working on trialling bin level sensors which tell contractors when they are full. They have a volume, tilt and heat sensor. These would save contractors’ time because they will know exactly what bins need attention, and it would also show what ones are actually used. It can also save money, in Santander, Spain, level sensor monitoring has been installed in all public refuse bins. As a result, it has saved 1.5 million Euros annually in diesel costs along, as contractors do on demand emptying

EQ Response Visualiser

Software is being developed that generates images following an earthquake showing the peak ground acceleration. It will generate a coloured ‘heat map’, which will show where in the city was worst affected. This is a huge improvement over the old method of magnitude and location. The city council owns more than 1000 facilities and it wants to continually improve on its assessment and prioritisation processes. Once the earthquake visualiser has developed its map, city council engineers will be able to see where they should start their assessments. This information will be uploaded to SmartView to be used by any individual or agency. The concept was developed as part of last year’s GovHack competition and later came second at the international awards in Adelaide. GovHack team members have formed a company called Sense3 to deliver the project for the city council. It is hoped to be trialled within six months.


Sensibels are a small piece of equipment, with a bell, which can be clipped onto bicycle handle bars. Smart Cities is looking to roll them out so people can use them when they are riding, and can ring the bell once for a negative experience, and twice for a positive one. The feedback is sent to a mobile phone, then to the cloud, to be used to map what areas need to be improved. Fabriko is making them now.

Sensor Network

A sensor network, made up of what are known as ‘kites’, would have a number of different uses, including measuring air quality. Environment Canterbury has air quality monitoring stations in St Albans and Woolston. Smart Cities wants to set them up across the city – the problem is, ECan’s ones cost about $60,000 each. So the team has bought cheap equipment to attach to the kites, costing about $200 each. It has installed them next to ECan’s stations to see if their results match. If successful, they will be rolled out across the city, with the results fed onto SmartView. Although they would only provide a rough estimate, it would give residents an idea of air quality where they live.

Seismic Monitoring Network

In other cities across the world, it is a legislative requirement to install accelerometers in significant buildings to measure how they move in an earthquake. But in New Zealand it’s not. So Smart Cities is installing six, made by Trimble, in Christchurch Art Gallery to monitor it during an earthquake. Ms McCallum says it’s clear there’s a need for technology providing data to engineers about buildings’ safety, and to reduce the impact of their loss of earnings and productivity when buildings are evacuated as they wait for an engineer’s inspection. The monitoring network would monitor how the building holds up in a quake, provide information on whether it could be occupied and if it needs to be assessed urgently.

Smart Bikes

How do you get around when you go into the central city? In a new project, Smart Cities is looking at including a bike share system, which has been successfully trialled by Robert Henderson on the Metro network. Metrocard holders could use their cards to catch the bus into the central city and then use it to hire a bicycle to get around.

Flood Alert

In future, Smart Cities will look at developing a way of monitoring rivers and parts of the city that are susceptible to flooding in high rainfall so they can see what is happening quickly.

CBD Pedestrian Flow

Monitoring where people walk and when can be useful in planning a city, because it can lead to finding out why they choose to go some places and not others. Ms McCallum is looking at installing wi-fi sensors in parts of the city, particularly in Cathedral Square and New Regent St, to see the pedestrian flow. Sensors have been trialled in Re:Start Mall to see how it works. The sensors use technology, such as cellphones or laptops, to see where people will and won’t walk, and when, so they could improve it. Ms McCallum said they are completely anonymous and it was a work in progress. “It’s going to make this city a much better city to be in.”


Fancy a game of pong while you wait to cross the road? You may have played the SmartCross game at the intersection of Lichfield and Colombo Sts. But now you can have a go on the new one next to the Vodafone building. Both are supported by the Smart Cities programme.

Accessible Parking Solution

The number of people who use disability car parks when they are not allowed has prompted Smart Cities to find a solution. It is looking at installing Bluetooth sensors on disabled car parks, which pair with a portable chip given to those who have passes to use them. If a vehicle parks in one that doesn’t have a chip, enforcement officers would get a notification and ticket them. Ms McCallum is planning on trialling this on a disabled car park at the city council on Hereford St first to see if it is successful before rolling it out.

Central City wi-fi

Smart Cities is looking to roll out free wi-fi in the central city over the next six months, starting in May.