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LOCAL INNOVATIONS SET TO MAKE LAKE MAC SMARTER

Devices that count visitors to city parks, monitor noise levels in our streets or even log the number of times public toilets flush each day could soon help Lake Macquarie be a better place to live.
 
The cutting-edge gadgets were among the finalists presented on 30 October as part of Lake Macquarie City Council’s Smart Liveable Neighbourhoods Challenge.
 
Built and Natural Assets Director David Hughes said the contest tasked some of the region’s brightest minds with creating prototype devices that harnessed Lake Mac’s new Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN).
 
“A citywide LoRaWAN has the potential to significantly improve countless facets of our day to day life,” Mr Hughes said.
 
“We want to make the most of this infrastructure, and this challenge sheds light on how we might do that.
“Investing in new digital infrastructure not only improves delivery of Council services, it provides a creative outlet for local talent.”
 
LoRaWAN is a low-cost platform that allows devices – often small, cheap and battery operated – to communicate with each other and a home base via the internet.
 
It bypasses the need to connect to the internet via more expensive 3G and 4G networks.
 
Devices tailored for LoRaWAN use can range from tiny people-counters monitoring the number of visitors to a playground or dog exercise area to sensors tracking noise, temperature or other ambient conditions.
 
The five finalists in the Smart Liveable Neighbourhoods Challenge were:
• A decibel meter to help planners and researchers better understand local noise levels and noise pollution;
• An amenities usage monitor to count toilet flush frequency, to enable better scheduling of cleaning and servicing;
• A gate counter to count people visiting city parks;
• A garbage bin sensor to monitor when a bin is full and how quickly it fills; and
• A sports field controller to remotely control lights, sprinklers, toilet locks and other amenities.
 
Mayor of Lake Macquarie, Cr Kay Fraser, said the sports field controller – devised by local engineer Chris Evans – won the day for its practicality and wide range of applications.
 
Mr Evans said the potential of Lake Mac’s LoRaWAN was limited only by the imagination of innovators and the needs of the community.
 
“My ideas spawn from common inconveniences, and winning this competition is validation of those ideas. It lets me know I can start pursuing them to the next stage,” he said.
 
Cr Fraser congratulated all entrants.
“The prototypes presented today really demonstrate the potential depth and breadth of our LoRaWAN infrastructure,” Cr Fraser said.
 
“With further investigation and refinement, innovations such as these will improve the way we serve our community, and will make Lake Macquarie’s public spaces better for everyone.”
 
Cr Fraser said nurturing talent through competitions such as the Smart Liveable Neighbourhoods Challenge further positioned Lake Macquarie as a test bed for innovation.
“Embracing new technology and the people behind will have long-term benefits for our city,” Cr Fraser said.