Collaborative technology lab may help develop 'smart cities' technologies

Tech giant in Centennial opens Colorado Open Lab

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Two years ago, a coalition full of big names in business, education and local government launched, promising to change the way cities find solutions to decidedly Colorado issues such as traffic and growth.

Now, a local tech giant has opened a collaborative technology lab, where partners in that coalition — the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance — may see some ideas come to life.

“Tech can be this elusive thing — we want to make it very real and tangible,” said Aiden Mitchell, a vice president at Arrow Electronics.

That's the engineering and technology company that opened the Colorado Open Lab, located on the ground floor of Arrow's headquarters at 9201 E. Dry Creek Road in Centennial. The lab serves as a high-tech, step-by-step workspace — complete with laser cutters and 3D printers — for developing new products, some of which could end up making changes to the way Denver metro cities approach problems.

Arrow's goal is “making sure it's safer where we work and play,” along with addressing transportation needs, Mitchell said.

The Colorado Smart Cities Alliance — which includes 19 cities from roughly Fort Collins to Pueblo, along with Arrow and other private and public entities — put forth a vision of embracing a new kind of infrastructure, Mitchell said.

With certain problems, “you can't build your way out,” Mitchell said, so cities could turn to data and information technology to arrive at new solutions.

To help them along the way, the Open Lab features several rooms that serve as a pipeline for developing new technology. There's a lounge with a large touch screen on the wall for sharing agendas; a room with showcases and live demos of new gadgets; spaces for working on designs; and a room with drills, saws and other engineering equipment. A chamber there can even test how a product fares at high temperature and humidity.

But alongside the more complex features, there's also a focus on keeping a warm, inviting atmosphere, Arrow staff said on a Sept. 12 tour. One space is intended as “kind of a sanctuary,” staff said, where a team can huddle or take care of emails. A conference room offer a noise-reduced space for collaborating.

Arrow, a business with a large global reach, designs software for other tech companies — it doesn't manufacture, said John Hourigan, Arrow's spokesperson.

It calls the companies it works with “customers,” and the first project-based customers are scheduled to come in early October, said Mitchell, whose position oversees “internet of things (IoT) global solutions.” Internet of things means objects that are connected to the internet, enabling them to send and receive data.

So far in the south metro area, Colorado Smart Cities Alliance members are working on a project borne of an idea that preceded the alliance's launch. Centennial, Lone Tree and Greenwood Village are collaborating on the project on South Yosemite Street, which runs through all three cities. Under a flashy name — Project Mercury — sensors will gather data on Yosemite all the way from Lincoln to Belleview avenues.

The data will develop a picture of traffic volume at certain points during the day, along with time spent waiting at stoplights. After the initial data collection phase, traffic lights will be coordinated in an adaptive system to make their timing more responsive to traffic flows. Implementation is expected to be underway early 2020.

It remains to be seen what other projects the alliance puts forth in the south metro area, but for Justin Cyrus, CEO of Lunar Outpost, the Open Lab takes a load off his shoulders for tight deadlines. Lunar Outpost develops technologies that have both Earth and space applications.

“Having a design team on standby is valuable. We're 23 people,” Cyrus said of his Golden-based company. “Sometimes you do need some mechanical engineering or computer science support.”

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