New technologies are changing how councils view and run recreational activities. Billy Michels says they could make or break people’s relationship with fun.
The Internet of Things
With the internet of things, everything can be monitored: park usage; soil condition; greenery. We can find out what’s popular in a park and determine why people visit a particular area or undertake a particular activity. Where are they going in the park and why? Are some areas more popular and does that mean some parts of the park are less visited and therefore unnecessary? What’s the condition of the park’s assets, both organic and built? Has there been too much stress on the swing set?
Games such as Pokemon Go have attracted people to parks recently. But that raises the question of whether these people are there for the park at all. Perhaps they see it simply as a convenient empty space.
Virtual reality (VR) could also be used to promote a park or activity. People could use VR to ‘tour’ several parks before deciding which one to visit.
This all begs the question of whether it is necessary to create, or maintain, real parks at all. If it’s possible to create parks in a virtual space, indistinguishable from the real thing, people could enjoy them without having to leave home. And if this were true, parks could have no physical or environmental boundaries.
Drones could be used for public safety, in general or at large-scale events, providing oversight over activity, plus security and monitoring.
Drones could also be used to monitor park assets, larger drones giving an overall view of park condition while smaller ones could be used to evaluate asset condition in closer detail. There could be a scheduled morning flyover to look for trash and areas needing immediate maintenance.
Automated (Driverless) Vehicles and Robotics
It hard to know quite where the concept of automated vehicles ends and robotics begins. Automated vehicles are not just those currently being trialled on the road but could also be used to maintain our recreational areas, such as automated mowers, and lawn or hedge trimmers. These devices would work after-hours and without supervision to minimise disruption to availability to recreational facilities.
Ultimately, this might also include some sort of automated device to weed the gardens – not unlike the Roomba vacuum cleaners.
Emergency service vehicles could also be automated.
Guides, be it in gardens or the greater outdoors could be robotic. Safety could be provided by roaming robotic devices, as could medical assistance and mobility.
And if more and more people are arriving in automated vehicles, which they may not own, will parking spaces still be required, or will we just need a drop-off zone?
Nanotech paint that won’t allow water or other paints to stick could mean councils never again have to clean up graffiti. And clothes that never get dirty or smell.
How could this new technology influence views on recreational activity?
Technology can’t, in itself, make people take part in a recreational activity although it can help to enhance, educate and inform. The challenge for councils will be to use technology in a way that enhances the way people see recreation.
This in turn may cause our notion of recreation to change.
Robots, drones and automated vehicles could virtually eliminate any risk, which may then reduce the excitement normally associated with the great outdoors and ‘fun’.
On the other hand, it could provide far greater entertainment through full-immersion virtual reality.
What do councils need to do differently in the light of this new technology?
Councils need to start planning to implement new technologies which can be used to maintain and improve recreational activities. Much of this is related to how we maintain those assets. However, other technology can be used to improve the experience by providing people with interactive opportunities to discover more about the environments they are in and also to provide spaces in which people can play. Some sort of feedback loop is also required in order for the council to learn from the user, while users are also encouraged to return.
One area of particular interest should be the internet of things which has the potential to provide enormous amounts of information regarding the environment, the people using facilities and asset condition.
Could you give some examples of where new technologies are already changing recreational activities?
In a much wider sense technologies like GPS have already been proven. Wearable technology is on the cusp of making significant improvements, providing bio-feedback, producing power (for built-in tech), maintaining ideal temperatures, monitoring health and activity levels.
- Billy Michels is IT manager at Waikato Regional Council and president of the Association of Local Government Information Management (ALGIM). firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in the November 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.