Sidewalk Labs, a secretive subsidiary of Alphabet, wants to radically overhaul public parking and transportation in American cities, emails and documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.
Its high-tech services, which it calls “new superpowers to extend access and mobility”, could make it easier to drive and park in cities and create hybrid public/private transit options that rely heavily on ride-share services such as Uber. But they might also gut traditional bus services and require cities to invest heavily in Google’s own technologies, experts fear.
Sidewalk is initially offering its cloud software, called Flow, to Columbus, Ohio, the winner of a recent $50m Smart City Challenge organized by the US Department of Transportation.
Using public records laws, the Guardian obtained dozens of emails and documents submitted to Challenge cities by Sidewalk Labs, detailing many technologies and proposals that have not previously been made public.
Some will be controversial, including spending transport subsidies for low-income residents on ride-sharing services such as Uber, requiring cities to upgrade to Sidewalk’s mobile payments system, and modernizing public parking to boost city revenues.
Sidewalk Labs was spun out from Google last June with a mission to “improve city life for everyone”. Since then, it was part of a consortium that deployed several hundred free Wi-Fi kiosks in New York and is rumoured to be designing a city from the ground up for self-driving cars. Now, it’s offering Columbus a three-year demonstration project consisting of 100 Wi-Fi kiosks and free access to Flow.