US smart cities get a boost

More funding is being allocated and the number of communities participating will double in US smart city initiatives.
Published: Mon 10 Oct 2016

The US is very much at the forefront of the smart city movement and it is set to stay there what with the prospect of a further $80 million in government investment, along with a doubling of the number of participating cities and communities. This follows a US$160 million commitment that was made this time last year. [Engerati-Envision America – Ten Smart Cities Take Shape]

The role of government investment in stimulating collaboration and development, with its multiplier effect in attracting private investment, has been well demonstrated in the US with smart metering and the smart grid. While the level of investment in smart cities has yet to reach a similar level, clearly the same principles are being applied with the White House’s Smart Cities Initiative.

So what is this funding being allocated to?

Smart city priorities

According to a White House fact sheet, there are four key areas:

Climate – gets nearly $15 million in new funding and two new coalitions to help cities and communities tackle energy and climate challenges. For example, one Department of Energy (DOE) campaign has already signed up 1,800 buildings representing 4.5 million m2 with data analytics tools that could reduce their energy footprint by an average 8% or more.

Transportation – more than $15 million in new grants and planned funding to evolve the future of urban transportation, including National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for researchers in Chattanooga to test, for the first time, how an entire urban network of connected and autonomous vehicles can automatically cooperate to improve travel efficiency and operate safely during severe weather events.

Public safety – more than $10 million in new grants and planned funding for public safety, resilience and disaster response. For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is funding the development of low-cost flood sensor-based tools in flood-prone areas of Texas, where predictive analytics will give first responders and local officials new capability to issue alerts and warnings, and the ability to respond more rapidly to save lives when a flood strikes.

Transforming city services – MetroLab Network is launching a new effort to help cities adopt promising innovations in social programmes, like a collaboration between three counties surrounding Seattle and the University of Washington to use predictive analytics to identify precisely when city services succeed in helping homeless individuals transition into permanent housing, offering the promise of a future of personalized intervention.

According to the statement, with nearly two-thirds of Americans living in urban settings, many of the fundamental challenges – from climate change to equitable growth to improved health – will require the cities to be laboratories for innovation. The rapid pace of technological change, from the rise of data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence and ubiquitous sensor networks to autonomous vehicles, holds significant promise for addressing the core local challenges.

Smart city breakthroughs

Among a number of what it calls “breakthrough activities” of the past year, the White House cites the awarding of nearly US$40 million in the Smart City Challenge to Columbus, Ohio to prototype future urban transportation options ranging from connected vehicle technologies to electric self-drive vehicles; and the start of the installation of a ‘fitness tracker’ in Chicago.

More than 500 sensor boxes will enable availability of block-by-block data on air quality, noise levels and traffic, which should help researchers and city officials to for example, reduce air pollution and improve traffic safety.

Smart city initiative growth

A sense of where other parties such as municipalities and the private sector see the needs and potential for smart cities is indicated in some of the other initiatives that have been announced.

More than twenty cities, along with the newly formed Council of Global City Chief Information Officers, and led by the City of New York, are launching a new initiative focused on ensuring responsible and equitable deployment of smart city technologies. The three primary goals are to provide a common framework to help governments develop and expand policies and procedures related to the Internet of Things; ensure openness and transparency regarding the use of public space or assets for smart city technologies; and advance the public dialogue about how government, the private sector and academia can collaborate to ensure these technologies are used in a way that maximizes public benefit.

The City of New York is also launching a new digital platform to help local governments navigate the smart city marketplace and identify innovative technologies within their respective focus areas. Developed through a public-private partnership, marketplace.nyc includes information about a growing list of more than 100 companies.

The Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany, State University of New York is creating smart city guidebooks for small and medium-sized cities. Mayors of such cities face a wide range of challenges that can slow the pace of innovation. The guidebooks will focus on key considerations for technology adoption, with a focus on critical implementation steps.

Dallas Innovation Alliance and Envision Charlotte are launching a new collaboration, “For Cities, By Cities,” that will bring cities together from around the globe over the next two years. Convening in Dallas, Texas in 2017 and Charlotte, North Carolina in 2018, city officials will share lessons learned regarding what works, what to avoid, how to get started, and how to define success.

Dallas also is launching the Dallas Innovation District in the West End neighbourhood focused on bringing together civic, corporate, and startup innovation efforts through a single district-level testbed.

Microsoft is announcing new smart cities-related resources to help communities leverage technology for public safety and transportation. Microsoft and Genetec are providing 10 US cities with Project Green Light starter kits to enable local businesses to connect surveillance cameras to the cloud and local law enforcement. Working with Cubic, Microsoft also is offering a cloud-based surface transport management solution pilot to five US cities.

To investigate the intersection between smart energy and smart cities, join Engerati's In Focus on Smart & Sustainable Cities.

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