Imagine driving along a worn-out valley in southern New Mexico for a quick getaway, and you stumble upon a mega city full of life but with no humans to greet you. Sounds crazy? Well, this day might not be very far away. When it comes to testing out the next generation of IoT devices, one private tech development firm is ready to leave surreality – and humans – behind.
Washington, DC-based software development and support organisation, Pegasus Systems has now reportedly devoted $1 billion to build the Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE)
in rural New Mexico. The project that was initiated in 2011 has taken off after a long stall. Problems with land acquisition forced the company to withdraw shortly before development commenced in the summer of 2012. Another report in 2013 speculated that the project was struggling to begin development, but a flurry of publicity in May 2015 signaled that it was back in full swing.
The $1 billion scheme will see 15-square-miles dedicated to ambitious experiments in fields such as transport, construction, communication and security. CITE will be used as a petri dish to culture new technologies that will shape the future of the urban environment.
So, what is CITE city?
Planned for a population of 35,000, Pegasus plans to enrich the idea of a modern city providing a genuine ground for testing. The blueprint exhibits plans to build malls and streets and even a church with specialized zones for developing new forms of agriculture, energy, and water treatment. An underground data collection network will provide detailed, real-time feedback.
“The vision is an environment where new products, services and technologies can be demonstrated and tested without disrupting everyday life,” says Pegasus Managing Director Robert Brumley.
How about driverless vehicles running on roads fitted with sensors, monitored from above by traffic drones? Homes could become the ultimate shelter for robots, and be disaster-resistant. Alternative energy sources such as Thorium power could be tested at scale.
With no human intervention, the possibilities to experiment in CITE city become endless.
“You can bring new things to have them stressed, break them, and find out the laws of unintended consequences,” says Brumley. “This should become like a magnet where people with ideas and technologies come, and not just test but interact.”
Why the project stands out?
High-concept ‘future city’ designs are emerging across the world, from waste-free Masdar City
in the UAE to Portugal’s PlanIT Valley
, which thrives upon 100 million connected sensors.
But CITE’s managing director is confident his project will stand out; as the only city that is purely for testing, for the variety and scale of experimentation it allows, and for the range of clients it can serve.
“The facility is open to anybody who wants to test,” says Brumley. “That makes it unique.”
No humans, no safety
The issues of safety in IoT testing might not be as black and white as Pegasus and CITE believe. Some futurists who spoke to Wired
are highly skeptical, saying the ghost city approach sidesteps a critical challenge.
“One of the most difficult things to do when developing these new technologies is have them safely navigate around people, who are unpredictable and can suddenly jump out in front of something,” says Reese Jones, an associate founder of Singularity University, which helps organizations learn how cutting-edge tech can help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.
“A desert doesn’t have snow or rain or trees. Some of the key issues are concerned with weather conditions, rather than circumventing fixed physical objects. The time of testing in a desert was 10 years ago. Now we need real-world conditions,” he added.
Steve Raynor, co-director of the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities, is quoted in the Fortune article
as warning that “the idea of ‘testing’ complex socio-technical systems without the people is bound to yield misleading results because real people frequently interact with materials and devices in ways that are not anticipated by the designer.”
Yes, one can agree that this “ghost city” would serve as first-of-its-kind testing ground for the future. The living laboratory encompassing the latest in cutting-edge technology will be identical to any other city, except for one thing: No one will live there
Check out the CITE animation video above to learn more about the infrastructure of its ambitious “ghost city”.