New U.S. push to fund smart city initiatives

New U.S. push to fund smart city initiatives

US smart city initiatives could get a boost from new legislation

A new U.S. legislative push is underway to increase funding for smart city initiatives – knitting together a city’s transportation network and civic services via IoT sensors and software.

This new legislation follows the excitement generated by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recent award of $40 million to Columbus, Ohio as the winner of the Smart City Challenge. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s investment firm Vulcan also awarded Columbus an additional $10 million for their Smart City project. The $50 million award is combined with an additional $90 million that Columbus, Ohio raised from other private partners.

The Dept. Of Transportation Smart City challenge was designed to help the winner – Columbus – define what it means to be a “Smart City” and provide funding for Columbus to build out its smart city and transportation network — self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and IoT sensors.

Smart city or senseable city?

Professor Carlo Rotti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and the founding partner of the international design and innovation office Carlo Ratti Associati, prefers the term “Senseable City” vs. “Smart City.”

Professor Carlo Rotti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and the founding partner of the international design and innovation office Carlo Ratti Associati
Professor Carlo Rotti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and the founding partner of the international design and innovation office Carlo Ratti Associati

“Senseable City sounds more human as it puts the focus on a city which is both sensible and able to sense,” Rotti said.

“Over the past decade digital technologies have begun to blanket our cities, forming the backbone of a large, intelligent infrastructure. Broadband fiber-optic and wireless telecommunications grids are supporting mobile phones, smartphones and tablets that are increasingly affordable. At the same time, open databases—especially from the government—that people can read and add to are revealing all kinds of information, and public kiosks and displays are helping literate and illiterate people access it. Add to this foundation a relentlessly growing network of sensors and digital- control technologies, all tied together by cheap, powerful computers, and our cities are quickly becoming like “computers in open air.””

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-Washington), a technology industry veteran and entrepreneur prior to her legislative career, announced the new proposed legislation last week at an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event in Philadelphia.

State legislators nervous over tech funding

The goal of the legislation and funding is to provide cities with resources for implementing and experimenting with IoT smart city technologies and initiatives. DelBene has acknowledged that many local and state legislators are often nervous about funding new technology initiatives, because of potential criticism or public backlash if the efforts are perceived to have failed.

“Embracing smart cities technologies and tackling the challenges they will bring is one of many things we need to do to modernize government and support U.S. innovation. Done right, smart cities investments in communities big and small can improve the quality of life for our citizens, save cash-strapped governments money over the long term, and address local issues from traffic to trash collection in ways we could never before have imagined,” DelBene said.

While many cities and civic leaders are pondering smart city initiatives such as the DOT’s Smart City challenge and this new funding push for smart city technology projects, the realities of smart city IoT technology aren’t quite there — yet, according to Bettina Tratz-Ryan, research vice president at Gartner.

“At Gartner, we always measure the success in terms of tangible outcome. Smart city IoT deployments are emerging in many cities but are predominantly hyped by technology providers. Cities can not show a sustainable impact just yet,” Tratz-Ryan said. “However, the pilots and deployments show at least in many cases an efficiency outcome demonstrated in traffic velocity increase, reduction in maintenance cycles or energy efficiency. It is too early to see if the massive efforts to deploy those IoT technology sustainably justify the results. Another aspect is linking the data of IoT deployments to a wider smart city operations or services framework, in which analytics would identify cross benefits with other initiatives. In those cases, the IoT deployment makes long term sense, this planning and execution mentality from cities is increasing but many technologies are not yet standardized yet.”

Multiple IoT vendors have launched smart city offerings. The ThingWorx IoT platform announced a partnership earlier this year with Smoove, a French-based bike-sharing service. Via ThingWorx’ smart city IoT technology, cities can access data-driven dashboards about their bike-share systems.

Placemeter, a NYC-based company, uses proprietary video/data technology to analyze traffic or pedestrian traffic videos – at scale – to determine traffic and pedestrian traffic and trends.  Placemeter is currently analyzing 10 million pedestrian movements each day in NYC. Ultimately, that data will be used in future NYC transportation network decisions.