The city will count on IoT, data analytics and smart shuttles to improve transportation systems and healthcare access for those in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
The U.S. Department of Transportation chose Columbus, OH, over 77 other cities—including tech hotbeds San Francisco and Austin, TX—as the big $40 million winner in this year’s Smart City Challenge. A grant competition with a focus on transportation, The Smart City Challenge is designed to help the winner become the first city to fully integrate new technologies and become a model for other municipalities. While development of infrastructure and transportation solutions are at the core of the program, the Smart City Challenge encompasses all types of IoT technology from bridge sensors to data analytics to self-driving cars.
Columbus is expected to bring in as much as $140 million of technology development funding with this Smart City win. Specifically, the city will receive $40 million from the federal government, and another $10 million from Vulcan, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s company. The city will get an additional $90 million in matching funds from local companies, governments and non-profits.
Never Underestimate the Underdog
Unlike other entrants, Columbus doesn’t offer its residents commuter rail or other high-capacity transportation solutions (beyond buses) that are typically available in cities of similar size. So it didn’t focus its entry on improving existing transportation systems. Columbus earned the grant from the government in two ways: It lined up matching local funding along with donated technology and expertise, and it focused on ways to use smart technology to help its most underserved populations.
A major part of Columbus' winning pitch was increasing transportation options to its economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. The city will use autonomous vehicles to link its Linden area neighborhood—where unemployment is three times the city average—to a nearby jobs center. Plans include connecting populations to opportunity by solving public transportation’s first-and-last-mile gap, getting residents to transit centers and back home. City planners hope the new service will also help disadvantaged families get better access to health care and essential city services.
Columbus intends to serve its low-income population by creating transit cards for using ride-hailing or car-sharing services, even if they don't have a smartphone or bank account. Passengers may be able to use those cards to schedule doctor appointments. Columbus also plans to use data analytics to improve health care access in a neighborhood that currently has an infant mortality rate four times that of the national average, allowing them to provide improved transportation options to those most in need of prenatal care.
Photo credit: Car2Go, Columbus.gov
“The thing that distinguished Columbus was that they were able to connect the problems they identified with specific technology solutions that are measureable,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in Governing Magazine. Foxx had the final say in picking the winner. “We feel they have a very good chance of success.”
Technology Drives the Smart City
During the competition and bidding, Columbus city officials masterfully worked with local stakeholders to gain matching funds that would leverage the impact of the federal grant, if the city were to win.
It also lined up several companies to donate technologies to the city, including Google Alphabet’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs. Sidewalk Labs offered data-gathering kiosks and access to its new transportation analytics platform, Flow. Amazon promised to provide cloud services, awarding $1 million in credits for AWS Cloud Services and AWS Professional Services. Mobileye volunteered to equip buses with pedestrian and cyclist detection and avoidance systems. Local Motors will deploy talking, self-driving electric shuttles.
Photo credit: US Department of Transportation
The Smart City Challenge rewards actually extend beyond the winner. Private companies and nonprofits have signed up to help not only Columbus, but also the cities that entered but didn't win. These participating companies specialize in fields such as urban innovation, cloud computing, telecommunications, solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles, engineering design software, wireless transmitters for vehicles and infrastructure, and pedestrian- and cyclist-detection for buses. According to the Department of Transportation, 150 companies and nonprofit groups have pledged as much as $500 million in support.
Solution providers interested in seeing the presentation from Columbus to the U.S. Department of Transportation or contacting the Columbus Smart City development team can find information at www.columbus.gov/smartcity/.