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CES 2019: How connected leafy canopies could fight climate change in our cities

Green cities of the future could feature urban oases built over flexible frames that are monitored remotely and autonomously irrigated.

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Urban landscaping gets smart.

Chris Monroe/CNET

A windowless Las Vegas ballroom is perhaps the last place you might expect to find upon a leafy bower. But that's exactly what happened to me at CES 2019 on Sunday.

The green and pleasant oasis I encountered amid a sea of plastic and metal electronics was a downsized version of French startup Urban Canopee's vision for making our cities greener -- both in color and in terms of environmental impact.

With the threat of climate change and global warming becoming increasingly urgent, more solutions are needed to help reduce temperatures and improve air quality. Trees and plants can help with both of these things, as well assisting with restoring urban biodiversity and improving quality of life. And as our cities become smarter and more connected thanks to the deployment of sensors and 5G, there are even more opportunities to ensure plants and trees are playing their role in the best and most efficient way.

Any city dweller knows how dearly-appreciated green spaces in urban environments are, but it's not always convenient or possible to plant trees in city streets. Urban Canopee wants instead to retrofit cities with plants by growing them over the roofs of buildings or other spaces.

Canopies of climbing plants are grown over lightweight, adaptable and flexible frames, which either stand alone or can be placed together in modules to allow the plants to weave together to form a leafy ceiling. Sensors within the frames and the plant pots allow the hydration levels of the plants and the temperature under the canopy to monitored remotely via an app. A solar kit and an intelligent, connected irrigation system operate autonomously to water the plants.

Urban Canopee currently has a test project underway in the French city of Toulouse, and two patents pending for the technology. The long-term goal is to make cities more resilient against climate change as well as allowing them to meet new green regulations and support the wider fight against climate change.

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