Sidewalk Labs Pitches Sensor-Laden Free Wi-Fi Hotspots

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Thanks to a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google's parent company, cities around the US could soon get a taste of what's popping up all over New York City: screaming-fast, free Wi-Fi that radiates across the city from hundreds of sidewalk kiosks.

The subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, is led by former New York City development official Dan Doctoroff and tends to boast about its ambitions while keeping its specific plans fairly quiet. Its website, for instance, compares its goal to transform cities with "digital technology" to groundbreaking innovations like the steam locomotive, electricity, and the automobile.

But thanks to Recode, which recently filed some public records for marketing materials the company uses to pitch its ideas to city governments, we now have a snapshot of its expansion plans. As it turns out, its LinkNYC Wi-Fi kiosks in New York City are only the tip of the iceberg: the company is marketing future iterations as "sensor platforms" that can understand and measure traffic congestion, identify dangerous situations like gas leaks, monitor air quality, and identify quality of life issues like idling trucks.

Sidewalk Labs pitched Columbus, Ohio up to 100 kiosks in four of its neighborhoods, Recode found. Each includes "data analytics [that would allow Columbus to] better understand the urban environment via environmental sensors and machine learning algorithms that integrate numerous data sources," according to a marketing brochure.

The sensors could be used to spot unattended packages and clogged drains, helping to prevent terrorism and infrastructure failures, the documents show. Each kiosk would net Sidewalk Labs approximately $30,000 in yearly digital advertising revenue.

Despite their high-tech innovations, though, the kiosks' greatest contribution to improving city life might be their simplest: free Wi-Fi. If you don't mind the ads, the speed offered is blindingly fast compared to other free urban options like Starbucks or public libraries. The LinkNYC kiosks PCMag tested earlier this year achieved an average 245Mbps for downloads and 209Mbps for uploads.

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