The Next Silicon Valley

US behind in smart cities, but government puts Columbus OH on fast track to pioneer smart transportation

Smart cities continue to be a conversation piece among government policy makers, talking about the benefits of connected devices, big data and potential cost savings. While cities like Barcelona, Dubai and Singapore appear to be trailblazers in developing their super-connected smart cities, it appears that the US lags behind in this agenda – the US National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), which has released a policy brief on the Internet of Things (IoT) in state government, says only one in five states have moved to the formal discussions phase of putting IoT on their agenda.

While NASCIO’s paper encourages state CIOs to make IoT part of the enterprise architecture discussions on asset management and risk assessment and to develop an IoT roadmap, the US Department of Transportation announced Columbus (OH) as the winner of its $40 million smart city challenge to pioneer the future of transportation.

In December 2015, US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx issued a challenge to US cities, to come up with a plan to reshape their transportation systems as part of a fully-integrated city that harnesses the power and potential of technology, data and creativity to reimagine how people and goods move. Through the ‘Smart City Challenge’, the department committed up to $40 million, and private partners committed over $20 million to help make this smart city vision a reality.

The challenge called on cities to do more than merely introduce new technologies onto city streets. Rather, the challenge called on mayors to ‘boldly envision’ new solutions that change the very face of transportation in cities by closing the gap between rich and poor; capturing the needs of both old and young; and through smart design, bridging the digital divide so that the future of transportation meets the needs of all city residents, not just those who are technology savvy.

In response, 78 cities in America answered the call by creating blueprints for the future of transportation. The seven finalist cities – Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland, and San Francisco – proposed first-of-a-kind use of these new technologies to solve the real-world challenges facing cities today, from self-driving shuttles that could cut in half the commute from underserved neighborhoods to centers of jobs and opportunity to the use of smart sensors to accelerate freight delivery while improving safety. Over 150 diverse industry and non-profit partners have pledged more than $500 million in resources, technology solutions, and support to help carry out these smart city plans.

At its core, the challenge is designed to advance progress in cities across the country – not just a single winning city. Already, the seven finalists are planning for adoption of new technologies and gaining commitments from a broad range of new private sector partners to help execute these visions. The details of Columbus’ plans and those of the other six finalist cities can be found in this press release.

The Department of Transport and its federal partners have committed to helping all cities that applied to the smart city challenge identify resources to carry out their plans. It has provided technical assistance to all 78 cities to help them identify and apply for approximately $6 billion in federal funding that cities could use for their innovative transportation projects. (It says interested cities should go here to learn more about resources available to help implement their smart city plans).

Globally, it is thought that one aspect of smart cities – smart traffic management and smart parking – could save some 4.2 billion man-hours annually by 2021: equivalent to each city driver saving nearly an entire working day per year. The study by Juniper Research suggests traffic easing measures are at the forefront of many smart cities’ efforts, and key to those considerations are the establishment of viable public transport networks to replace private vehicle use. Meanwhile other measures, such as the 2 million smart parking spaces anticipated to be installed globally by 2021 will serve to improve private and commercial traffic flow. “Facilitating the movement of citizens within urban agglomerations via transport networks is fundamental to a city’s economic growth” noted research author Steffen Sorrell. “Congestion reduces businesses’ competitiveness, and contributes to so-called brain-drain.”

In addition, the research found that the smart street lighting market, consisting of micro-controlled LED units and sensors is expected to surge over the next 5 years, with over half of installed LED fixtures being networked globally by 2021.

The potential for smart street lighting is not limited to reducing the city’s energy bill. Additional sensors installed on fixtures enable new services for revenue generation, such as municipal Wi-Fi and even retail marketing opportunities. The combined factors of falling LED costs and emergence of hardware standards for fixtures such as NEMA’s C136.41 are expected to contribute to driving the market forward.

So while the ‘smart city’ remains a relatively young concept, many cities are beginning to recognize the need to improve in terms of competitiveness and quality of life. Increasing urban populations are creating pressure on city resources, driving the need for new and efficient solutions.

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