Using a federal government grant, the successful collaboration is installing "responsive" technology such as smart sensors on street furniture in Olds Park, Penshurst and Memorial Square, Hurstville, to monitor and respond in real time to their use.

"The aim is for the (Georges River) council to receive live messages, for example sensors on bins will detect fullness, register if ash receptacles are overheating or if a street bollard is damaged,” former UNSW School of Built Environment Senior Lecturer City Planning, Associate Professor Dr Nancy Marshall said.

“This will help providers to know exactly which bins are ready to be emptied and when to send service teams out.”

The team is installing digital sensors to measure sound, use and flow of water on items such as picnic tables, bins, barbeques, seats, ash receptacles, bubblers, and lights. 

Georges River Council program coordinator Hayley Barnes said the partnership provided the newly merged council the opportunity to engage in the Smart Cities space at low cost and risk to:

  • give a deeper understanding of community demographics and infrastructure
  • assist in asset management
  • create better public spaces to enable a broader range of uses in a densely populated area
  • provide a platform for introducing innovative technologies
  • meet community needs and provide opportunities for service improvements.

“We want the potential to use smart bins that have wireless capabilities as well as fill monitors, which currently no Australian council has,” Barnes said.

Partnership with Street Furniture Australia

Design and marketing manager with Street Furniture Australia, June Lee Boxsell, said the company was also interested in learning how smart technology can be used to elevate the public space experience for communities and assist in asset management.

Street Furniture Australia delivered 49 products and prototypes to be tested at the two south Sydney sites.

“This offer (to become an industry partner) came at the perfect time as we had already started working on design projects relating to smart technology,” Ms Boxsell said.

“It was a perfect opportunity to collaborate and test our prototypes in real time.”

Successful collaboration and innovation

UNSW School of Built Environment Senior Lecturer Industrial Design Dr Christian Tietz said the university had benefitted from the ability to trial out new ideas in the project. 

Dr Tietz has designed a public furniture prototype for the project, which can be used for cooking drawing water and Wi-Fi. 

The project is also using social media and behaviour mapping to track foot traffic and movement patterns to capture data on how often public space was used. 

“We are also mapping the behaviour of the people using the park and plaza, and this all determines the effectiveness of the furniture,” Dr Tietz said. 

For Georges River Council, the project has been successful due to the collaborative and supportive relationship between the three partners. 

“It has been particularly impressive how supportive and flexible UNSW and Street Furniture Australia have been in allowing Council to make decisions and changes as required,” Ms Barnes said. 

“This approach has allowed us to overcome unforeseen challenges including negotiating the legal aspects and site issues.” 

Ms Boxsell said Street Furniture Australia’s research and development team appreciated the opportunity to work outside the company direct customer base and hoped to participate in more collaborations in the future. 

“We also particularly appreciated the ability to work with academics from such a wide range of backgrounds: planning, architecture, landscape architecture and industrial design,” she said. 

“Their differing perspectives and expertise have been greatly valuable in the development of the new technologies and products in the Smart Social Spaces project.”

She said the Smart Social Spaces project was a great opportunity to develop future products based on real data and research findings. 

“We are also in discussion with Dr Christian Tietz about further developing and commercialising his Healthy Living Hardware, or HLH, pole,” Ms Boxsell said. 

The pole, which has lights, power, water and some tabletops, was originally designed as an outdoor amenity hub for Indigenous communities that faced overcrowding issues in their homes. 

Street Furniture Australia has adapted the pole with sensors to suit an urban setting. 

Associate Professor Dr Marshall said the team is learning from the city of Tel Aviv, a hub for smart city technology that has pioneered personalised "digital cards" that give real-time notifications about what's happening in a neighbourhood and free Wi-Fi across the city. 

Georges River Council says the smart system developed in the project will help Council improve the public domain and its infrastructure. 

Next steps

“Council will use the findings from the pilot project to inform policy directions to ensure that the public realm is efficiently and effectively servicing our community’s needs,” Ms Barnes said. 

“This may include improved maintenance and responsiveness to public space issues, events and programs.” 

UNSW’s Dr Marshall said the 18-month project is responding to the pressures of high urban density and apartment living resulting in parks and plazas being used as urban backyards. 

"We are asking people to live in two-bedroom apartments with families so the need for healthy open local spaces is critical. 

“There is so much opportunity for smart cities to improve efficiencies from council service providers, so people do feel comfortable going to local parks with great facilities.” 

Supported funding

The Smart Social Spaces: Smart Street Furniture Supporting Social Health project is being funded by a $650,000 Smart Cities and Suburbs Program grant awarded by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. 

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