Earlier this week Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen announced that he was teaming up with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to offer a $50 million prize to the winner of a “Smart City” competition aimed at promoting high-tech solutions to traffic snarls.
The aim is to show what is possible when communities use technology to connect transportation assets into an interactive network. The Smart City Challenge will concentrate federal resources into one medium-sized city, selected through a nationwide competition. Funding of up to $40 million in funding will go to one mid-sized city that puts forward bold, data-driven ideas to improve lives by making transportation safer, easier and more reliable. DOT will partner with Vulcan, Paul Allen’s venture arm, to offer an additional $10 million to the winning city to support infrastructure for Electric Vehicles.
Photo: Courtesy of Cisco via Flickr
February is the deadline to submit proposals for transit innovations and DOT’s experts will select five proposals as finalists. Each of the finalists will receive $100,000 in federal funding for further development, and the winner would be announced by next June. The competition is open to U.S. mid-sized cities, which is defined as cities with a 2010 census population between 200,000 and 850,000. You can see the guidelines here.
Fifty million dollars may not sound like much compared to overall spending on transportation, but for cities of this size it’s a great start for creating a smarter city.
This week’s announcement is one of many smart city competitions announced over the years, and surely there will be more to come. Cities are where the majority of people will live and by 2050 some estimates predict that as many as seven out of 10 people on Earth will live in an urban area. The continued population increases will exceed the capacity of human administrators.
Cities will have to get a whole lot smarter.
This is why you are seeing more and more contests for cities to get smarter, and for them to be more open. Witness cities like Glasgow who won the UK’s Future Cities competition, Barcelona’s Smart City ecosystem, India’s Smart City Challenge, the Obama Administration's Smart City challenge, and New York’s efforts to build a smart city.
What this means is that sensors will be woven into every aspect of daily life. By 2020, the number of thermostats, pressure gauges, accelerometers, acoustic microphones, cameras, meters and other micro-electromechanical measuring devices linked to the Internet is predicted to reach 50 billion worldwide, a number predicted by Cisco.
Think solar powered WiFi connected trash cans to let rubbish collectors know when they are full, sensors to alert public works directors of clogged sewers, traffic cameras connected to an IP network to notify engineers in a central location of mounting traffic jams, air quality sensors to monitor pollution and rooftop acoustics sensors triangulating sounds of gunshots.
These contests are a way to drive industry towards a new era of more efficient and responsive government, driven by real-time data. The role of the IOT will also drive new economic opportunity and business development, centered around the creation, analysis and intelligent use of these data feeds. The benefits are many: increased cost-savings, bolstered civic engagement, and strengthened public health and safety.
Cheers to more contests and to the winners, which will be all of us.
Further reading: Wall Street Journal Special Report: As World Crowds In, Cities Become Digital Laboratories