MORRISVILLE – How smart is Morrisville’s plan for a smart-city future? Could be an award winner.

The Smart Cities Council has selected the Town of Morrisville as one of 10 finalists for the 2021 Readiness Cohort, a global contest that helps the selected winners accelerate technology program implementation.

The Town submitted two projects as a part of their application, and is the smallest municipality in terms of population and the size of the local government workforce, according to Rick Ralph, the Town of Morrisville’s CIO.

“Our inaugural smart cities project, the Connected Park Initiative, encompasses everything a smart cities project should,” said Ralph in the Town of Morrisville’s video submission to the Smart Cities Council, which is available on YouTube.  “It uses IoT sensors and data to optimize and automate park management.”

The selected park to pilot the project is Cedar Fork District Park, said Ralph in an interview with WRAL TechWire. The town plans to install flood sensors, ground moisture sensors, electric gates, and digital signage at the park, as well as feed the data to a central dashboard that can be viewed in real-time by residents, guests who hold reservations, and town staff.

According to Ralph, Cedar Fork District Park regularly experiences flooding and wet, soggy field conditions, and the town’s public works department manually monitors conditions at the park by regularly driving to and around the park and its athletic fields.

Once sensors are installed, the town will use the data from the sensors to determine, in real-time, whether conditions warrant park closure, enabling the town to communicate closures and conditions to residents and reservation holders.  It will also free up employee time, said Ralph, particularly for Public Works, so that town staff can utilize that time for other tasks that enhance the quality of life for town residents.

The second project that the Town of Morrisville submitted for consideration to the Smart Cities Council Readiness Cohort Challenge is the Smart Corridor Initiative.

Town of Morrisville graphic

The Town of Morrisville is in the process of identifying a stretch of road, or two, that will become the town’s Smart Corridor.

“Once established, we would issue a request for pilot to receive innovative solutions that we could pilot along the corridor,” explained Ralph in the submission video.

“We will use benchmarks, such as decreased commute times and increased average speeds, to evaluate the successfulness of the piloted solution to determine feasibility for widespread deployment.”

The corridor or corridors will serve as a test lab to evaluate transportation technologies before widespread adoption, said Ralph, which enables the Town of Morrisville to address a common issue residents report on town surveys: traffic and congestion.

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These two initiatives have secured the Town of Morrisville’s selection as a finalist for the Readiness Cohort Challenge, but they’re just two initiatives within the town’s Smart Morrisville program, said Ralph.  “The program’s mission is to use technology and data to improve operational efficiencies and positively impact citizen quality of life.”

Even if the Town of Morrisville is not selected as a Readiness Cohort 2021 member, the town is still prepared to move forward with the two submitted projects, and the other Smart Morrisville programs, said Ralph, and residents and visitors will benefit.

The Smart Morrisville program aims to use technology and data to improve operational efficiencies and positively impact the quality of life for town residents.  “Each potential smart city initiative is evaluated against five criteria,” said Ralph, sustainability, mobility, accessibility, relevance, and transparency.  “

According to Ralph, each smart city initiative that is being pursued by the town aligns to the Smart Morrisville Strategic Plan, which was adopted in July 2020 and the result of an internal and external smart cities assessment, as well as the Connect Morrisville Strategic Plan.

And, the Town of Morrisville is a part of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC), which presented its 2020 innovation awards on Wednesday, as well as the NC Cleantech Corridor, all while working to advance sustainability efforts in line with its efforts to accelerate investments in smart city technology.

Morrisville not alone

Down the road, Cary turned their central government complex into a living lab for testing smart city solutions, wrote Tom Snyder for WRAL TechWire in June of 2019.  The Town of Cary had already formed a data advisory committee to obtain citizen inputs, and Town of Cary CIO Nicole Raimundo told WRAL TechWire that every employee of the Town of Cary needed to be a part of building connected solutions for the town.  Cary was one of the five winners of the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge 2018, and benefited from the Smart Cities Council’s expertise and access to mentors, products, and services to accelerate the town’s smart city projects, including a workshop with the goal of providing a strategic roadmap to guide future smart city projects led by Smart Cities Council Global Readiness Director Jennifer James.

“We want to make the technology so seamless (that) they really don’t know that’s it’s there,” Raimundo told WRAL News in July 2019.   The Town of Cary’s projects can be found online.