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Did You Know Some Cities Are Smarter Than Others?

This year at South By Southwest, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced 7 finalist cities for the nation’s “Smart City Challenge.” According to transportation.gov/smartcity, on May 16 Foxx “kicked off visits to all 7 smart city challenge finalist cities. He will meet with mayors and other local leaders in Austin, TX; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Kansas City, MO; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; and San Francisco.” With the winner being announced later this month we’ll soon know which U.S. city is the smartest. But what exactly makes these cities “Smart Cities”? And what will the smart city of the future look like?

As far as the Department of Transportation is concerned, a Smart City is “fully integrated with innovative technologies — self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors.” Whichever city presents the best plans will be awarded a federal grant of $40 million at the end of the competition in June.

Future of Transportation

Transportation has needed to get smarter for quite some time now, so it’s encouraging to see the federal government funding local projects and initiatives to get it off the ground. Smart Cities will be cities that allow fast transport to support green living initiatives. For example, home prices in Silicon Valley and San Francisco continue to price people into the suburbs, driving up traffic congestion, environmental impact, and countless other unmeasurable factors (time away from family, road rage, etc.) Cue an invention like Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. A super speed version of rail transport that could revolutionize the California commute. Trips between LA and San Francisco could be made in 30 minutes.

Imagine also self-driving city utility vehicles, cutting down on opportunities for human error, and improving efficiency. Or picture FAA approved quadcopters with geo-mapping cameras checking for potholes and disturbances on city streets, helping reduce the amount of time it takes to repair them. Companies like Identified Technologies have developed drones for use with construction primarily, but this kind of tech could easily be adapted for public use.

Smart Infrastructure

When people think of smart cities they tend to think of public facing benefits like transportation. What if there were other energy saving systems that could change the way cities operate? Cue Skylar Tibbits and his MIT peers who have developed programmable materials with a method coined ‘4D Printing’. As demonstrated in a rather impressive TED Talk, Skylar explains that certain materials could be programmed to undulate to help move water down a pipeline with minimal outside force. It also could be adjusted to expand or contract to redirect flow based on need. While the idea seems a bit far fetched, or perhaps just far off, think about the current state of public utilities. We have pipes that we put in the ground that are difficult to change/update without unearthing, which usually has a negative impact on the public. Why not have Smarter materials installed to get the job done more efficiently?

The future smart city will be populated by individual smart homes. This will include everything from solar integration to limit the amount of energy pulled from the city’s power grid, to IoT applications that help homeowners make better use of gas, water, and other utilities. These future smart homes will also be made with materials that are less taxing on the environment, and some may even be made mobile to help their owners follow work or other life changes, without leaving a permanent impact on the environment.

What will need to be in place for tomorrow?

Smart cities will need to start creating an administrative framework to help guide the growth of Smart City upgrades. Positions like Chief Data Officers, Chief Information Officers and Chief Technology Officers will become more common in City Halls across America to help guide the change and manage the influx of new information. With leaders in place to drive innovation, it will be easier to realize the kind of city that will have minimal environmental impact, and provide more efficient lives for its residents. Want to learn more about the competition? Check out the Department of Transportation’s contest page at https://www.transportation.gov/smartcity

About the author

Nick Hastreiter

I write about the future of business. I approach this by interviewing founders, CEO's, and other game changers to share their vision for the future of their industry.

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