One year before the official start date of the Toronto Pan Am Games, the city is already counting down the days, hours, and minutes until the games begin – and it’s using a giant digital clock, harnessing the power of the Internet of Things.

On Friday, Cisco Canada and Toronto 2015, the committee organizing the Pan Am Games, unveiled the Cisco Toronto 2015 Countdown Clock, a 5.5-metre tall landmark in the southeast corner of Nathan Phillips Square. The clock will remain here for the next year, with the City of Toronto deciding its fate after that.

“What we want is to show people how everything is connected,” said Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Canada, in an interview. “Our goal here is to create this interactive fan experience, this interactive experience for tourists to showcase our city, to showcase these games … Over time, we’ll continue to evolve [the clock] as we get requests or as we get better ideas. We’ve got a whole year to go and our creativity and imagination to add here.”

While Kawale would only say the clock cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he did say the clock, plus an accompanying kiosk, took about 7,000 hours to build.

The Cisco Toronto 2015 Countdown Clock.
The Cisco Toronto 2015 Countdown Clock.

The project also included some partnerships, with Cisco Canada working closely with Montreal’s X20 Media Barco and Toronto’s Fourth Wall Media. X20 Media Barco focused on the software, data visualizations, apps, and content appearing on the screens, and Fourth Wall Media constructed the metal framework of the body of the clock.

But aside from the actual gadgetry in the clock itself, Cisco Canada used dark fiber, more slender than a single strand of human hair, to build out a gigabit network and node on the Internet. By doing this, the company was able to make the clock and the kiosk interactive, said Jeff Seifert, chief technology officer for Cisco Canada.

The kiosk will teach people about different sports unique to the Pan Am Games – for example, goalball – and it will provide details on how people can become volunteers. Equipped with a touchscreen, it also has an embedded camera at the top, allowing people to take photos of themselves in Nathan Phillips Square and share them via email.

Later this year, Cisco Canada will also be adding two-way video conferencing using the camera and a microphone, Seifert said. That feature taps into Cisco’s iServices platform, and it also allows for wireless, Bluetooth, and NFC technologies.

Jeff Seifert, chief technology officer for Cisco Canada, next to the interactive kiosk.
Jeff Seifert, chief technology officer for Cisco Canada, next to the interactive kiosk.

“It would not be surprising to see the ability to do two-way live video connection from Nathan Phillips Square sometime in the next year, to maybe an athlete in their hometown,” he said. “Maybe a group of schoolchildren getting mentored by a future Pan Am athlete, that kind of thing.”

Nor does Cisco Canada plan on stopping there – the company plans on adding more functionalities to the clock and kiosk as the year goes on, highlighting the Internet of Things, Seifert said.

The Cisco Toronto 2015 Countdown Clock in Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square. (Image: Cisco Canada).
The Cisco Toronto 2015 Countdown Clock in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. (Image: Cisco Canada).

All of the buzz around the clock is making Toronto resident Kevin Havens “very interested” in the Pan Am Games. Havens took a photo of himself using the interactive kiosk, sending himself a copy via email.

“I think it was kind of neat … I think they’re just trying to reach out for everybody, bringing in the community and getting involved,” he said, adding he also applied to be a volunteer for Pan Am 2015. “Apparently now I’m going to get email updates, which is good [for] different events for the games.”

Ahead of the clock’s unveiling, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne also said a few words, and Toronto mayor Rob Ford also put in an appearance alongside his brother, city councillor Doug Ford.

The games are slated to attract about 7,000 athletes from more than 40 countries to Toronto.

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