TORONTO — Sidewalk Labs offered a glimpse at a handful of high-tech prototypes it hopes to launch in a waterfront smart city it has proposed for Toronto.
The Alphabet Inc.-backed entity showed off technologies it previously teased, including hexagonal sidewalks that light up to indicate a change in a street’s usage and heat up to reduce ice and snow, and “building raincoats” that can adjust to provide cover from cold weather or rain but open up in warm temperatures.
Sidewalk Labs has long touted the innovations as a way it believes it can transform communities — including the swath of prime land known as Quayside that it hopes to develop with Waterfront Toronto.
“It is totally different to see it in its real world context and understand its real impact,” said Jesse Shapins, the director of public realm at Sidewalk Labs, who said nailing down exactly what building either the raincoats or streets would cost is tough, but he believes they will be “comparatively less’” than a glass “arcade” walkway.
“Starting to do something like this helps us learn about some of the cost elements, but we imagine doing them on a larger scale and more of them, the costs go down.”
The unveilings come as Sidewalk Labs is facing criticism over hopes to lay claim to a cut of the city’s developer fees and property taxes in exchange for funding a light rail transit line and underground infrastructure in and around the Quayside neighbourhood.
In previous months Sidewalk Labs was dealing with concerns around Quayside’s potential data, privacy and intellectual property policies.
While Sidewalk Labs has often been accused of being secretive, the company has tried to foster a sense of transparency with Quayside meetings to collect feedback and open houses at a waterfront office it opened to construct prototypes.
The company hosted an open house recently for the public to see the innovations it has been working on, which Shapins hoped would generate feedback.
Shapins said those who attend will see the high-tech sidewalk — a series of concrete paversday that can be made porous to make a street more resilient when faced with water. He said the pavers can be removed individually when damaged, so extensive road closures and crews are not needed.
Lighting, he said, could be incorporated into the pavers to “reprogram” streets for high traffic, construction, bikes and special events, proving much more efficient than paint.
Shapins was also excited to show off the “building raincoats,” which are built with a plastic-like film and can be used to transition a space from indoors to outdoors depending on the weather.
“The raincoat provides an additional way to expand so a farmers market can happen inside but also outside as well,” he said.
“There’s even the opportunity to use them as expanded patio spaces so the patio season doesn’t have to start at the beginning of summer. It could start earlier when you have something like this.”
Shapins said he expects the raincoats will come in handy in Quayside, where it can get cold and windy quickly and where research he’s seen has estimated that weather is only “comfortable” 30 per cent of the year.
Sidewalk Labs, he revealed, will next look at testing the technology behind the tall timber buildings and the “stoa” — a term Sidewalk is using to mean flexible, ground floor spaces — proposed for Quayside.