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Hidden in plain sight on Wellington’s Vivian St, is a global corporate’s skunkworks play in the ‘Smart Cities’ space.

A skunkworks as defined by Wikipedia is a project developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop primarily for the sake of radical innovation. The definition is very apt for these clever people.

In this case the innovation is mostly around collecting and making clever use of data.


NEC Wellington Vivian St workshop laboratory
NEC's skunkworks laboratory and workshop integrates hardware and software to collect data, which in turn allows better decision-making to improve citizens' lives

Reams of information collected in areas as diverse as transport, waste, water, air quality, street lighting, begging, pedestrians, graffiti and even bird count is turned into really useful, actionable knowledge by the 25+ team of NEC NZ ‘Smart Cities’. Its people range from machine learning to 3D virtual reality experts, software developers to embedded software developers - and a few other specialties in-between.

The Japanese giant operates in a wide range of  IT infrastructure, including semi-conductors and other communication systems. It employs more than 100,000 people around the world.

Creating useful, evidence-based tools

This Smart Cities play has evolved and grown over the past four years, with the R&D laboratory and sales teams melding hardware and software into extremely useful, evidence-based tools for Wellington City Council and other strategic partners around New Zealand and Australia.

It is an interesting example of a corporation giving permission (and not inconsiderable funding) to a division outside its main sphere of influence.

Have no doubt that the Smart Cities’ mission is to create a new generation of products to sell around the world as items such as POTS (plain old telephone system) become obsolete.

It is also a concentration of effort and skills, at a pretty competitive price, that New Zealand is able to do very well.

The interaction that this team has with universities, research institutes, councils and NEC head office is a virtuous circle of improvement, refinement and application.

3D render of Wellington

3D modelling, enabling many different ways to interact with a city's infrastructure, is part of NEC  NZ's Smart Cities offer


Making cities more rational, responsive and liveable

As Sean Audain, Wellington City Council Innovation Officer recently wrote in a very good LinkedIn article about Smart Cities, “its technologies can greatly assist in making our cities more rational, responsive and liveable places.”

Sean makes a telling point in:

“Perhaps the greatest thing the smart city could do is free us of the strictures of the current urban theory doctrines and design practices and leave us free to reshape a modern idea of a better city.”

Roll on the smart city.

Smart City skunkworks doing cool things with data in the heart of Wellington

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