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Smart city and safe city technology beta projects and pilot programs are gaining ground in New York City, from free public Wi-Fi to smart park benches and even sophisticated listening devices that can detect gunshots to allow a quick police response.

According to, one of the most ambitious tech projects underway in New York, LinkNYC is intended to replace the city’s 7,500 pay phones on city sidewalks with permanent Link kiosks, to be installed in all five city boroughs over eight years, provide fast, free Wi-Fi, device charging and a tablet computer for accessing city services, maps and directions. Free public internet calls are also possible from the units, and there’s also a red 911 button that can be pushed to call emergency services.

A consortium of companies won a 12-year franchise from the city to build the kiosks on the footprint of thousands of former phone booths. The organization is investing more than $200 million to install fiber optic cable for the kiosks, which are funded by revenue from advertising — large, full-color displays on the sides of the kiosks.

One of the more charming uses of smart tech in New York is being tested with several park benches installed in High Bridge Park at 175th and Amsterdam in Manhattan. The solar-powered benches, designed by Soofa, a startup with connections to the MIT Media Lab, allow park visitors to charge a smartphone or other device while resting, socializing or sunbathing.

But there is more to it. The smart benches also allow park officials to count Wi-Fi-enabled devices as they pass by, which allows them to estimate foot traffic and in turn determine if more security or trash removal might be needed in an area of a park.

Assuaging citizen concerns, the Soofa pilot incorporates a set of Internet of Things guidelines created by the city which govern privacy and security concerns for new devices.

Another tech project is designed to help fight crime. ShotSpotter relies on sophisticated rooftop listening sensors and software to identify the acoustic fingerprint of gunfire. Three sensors are used to triangulate a gunshot sound and report the location of the gunshot, within 27 yards, to the nearest police precinct in about one minute.

New York is also testing smart bus technology – the Traffic Signal Priority project, along a bus line in busy lower Manhattan, allows buses equipped with GPS to connect into the existing traffic signal control network. When a bus is stopped for a red light, for example, the system can shorten the amount of time the light is red to allow the bus to move ahead, or the system can extend the green time for an approaching bus.

The technology, first piloted in 2012, appears to be taking hold. Results from 2016 showed a savings in bus commute time of up to 20%, and as of January 2017, the city has four bus corridors equipped with the prioritization technology, according to a New York City Department of Transportation spokeswoman. An additional three corridors are under study, and six more are being considered for future operations, she adds.

New York City has many other smart initiatives in the test phase — including technologies to more efficiently use water, dispose of trash, protect the air and make it easier to find and use city services.