Automation: Smart Colorado Springs begins to take shape

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In Salt Lake City, Utah, the Department of Transportation uses smart applications to observe and manage traffic in real time. A government portal enables residents to track with pinpoint accuracy when buses will arrive at their stops. Sensors around the state monitor how Salt Lake City and other communities are affecting the environment. Currently in development is an app that will provide real-time data and analysis of air pollution sources.

In Kansas City (Kansas and Missouri), digital technology and fiber optic connectivity are being embedded in roadways. An Integrated Roadways app converts local roads into a digital network of smart streets, enabling officials and drivers to monitor traffic and supporting driverless vehicle technology.

San Francisco is conducting a large-scale controlled parking experiment to manage the availability of scarce on-street parking. The city is using smart parking meters that change parking prices according to location, time of day and day of the week. Thus far, the city has been able to keep 20 percent of spaces vacant on any given block.

Flint, Mich. — a city most people view in terms of its lead-tainted water — aims to place medical kiosks in schools that are connected to local hospitals to monitor the ongoing recovery from lead poisoning. The city also intends to cost-effectively connect the poorest areas of the city with high-speed, reliable internet to close the information gap and help service providers such as community health workers operate more efficiently.

What these cities have in common are access to high-speed, advanced internet service and the desire to incorporate information and communication technologies to solve city problems, improve quality of life and create jobs.

They’re also members of Smart Gigabit Communities, a network of municipalities put together by US Ignite to encourage the development of smart cities and next-generation applications.

Colorado Springs joined the 25-city network in March, paving the way for strategic assistance, sharing of technical and organizational expertise, and financial investment.

“We’re creating a movement where cities can tackle networking challenges and begin to develop apps” that require and utilize high-speed internet connections, said Bill Wallace, CEO of US Ignite. Member cities can leverage technology that’s already been created and tested in other places and apply it to their own unique situations.

Given the speed with which technology is evolving and new applications are being developed, US Ignite encourages collaboration and helps members to develop and locate financing for smart-city projects.

The US Ignite Forum enables communities to share smart-city best practices. US Ignite also is updating the Smart Gigabit Communities database to highlight some 500 smart city apps and implementing a Big Data Co-op that will allow sharing of big data tools, materials, sample datasets and sample code.

The organization also is creating an easy-to-use tool to identify federal funding opportunities for smart-city apps and broadband infrastructure. Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research manages nearly $100 million in public and private investments to accelerate fundamental research on wireless communication and networking technologies.

Smart Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is on track to reinvent itself as a smart city, Wallace said.

He notes that, since the city enrolled in the Smart Gigabit Communities program, it has been building a team to spark local projects and has begun strategizing for Smart Colorado Springs.

“Our goal is to catalyze new projects tailored to Colorado Springs but also to create a Smart City movement,” Wallace said. “We have been taking an inventory of themes for the city and making contact with others in the network to see if there are projects to leverage.”

The local Ignite team, which has been meeting every month, also includes Susan Spradley, a tech executive and entrepreneur who serves as chair of the US Ignite board of directors; Ingrid Richter, executive director of the Catalyst Campus; and Lola Woloch, CEO of the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

The team also includes Ryan Trujillo, Colorado Springs contract compliance and sustainability manager.

“We’ve identified three areas the city is focused on,” Spradley said. “The city will pick the ones for us to tackle and sponsor.”

The city has not yet firmed up the three projects it will be implementing, Spradley said, but likely will announce next month what those projects will be.

One project Spradley would like to see implemented is a hackathon.

“We would bring in students for a day or two to work on a specific problem and try to create an app or a presentation they then turn into an app,” Spradley said. “Then we would work with the students to get it written and implemented.”

The hackathon could be a fun way to get the community involved in the smart city movement and to focus on STEM-based learning to encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and math careers.

“The city may not want to host a hackathon, but we can,” Spradley said.

Implications for business

Conventional thinking holds that smart applications — robots, algorithms and the like — could replace humans by doing certain jobs faster and better.

Wallace prefers to view the smart city movement as one that creates a path for private sector growth and economic development.

“This is a way to create jobs, support startups and stimulate investment,” Wallace said. “We are creating an innovation ecosystem by pulling together different groups under one umbrella.”

In fact, he said, “we’re incubating small businesses to create new jobs in high-tech businesses. We’re defining next-generation businesses that are going to take advantage of these new networks.”

US Ignite is helping Colorado Springs to be creative in defining the workforce of the future.

“There will always be high-tech jobs that require training,” Wallace noted. “When you get local businesses together to talk about future programming requirements, you can work with colleges to make sure they have the right training programs in place to meet those challenges.”

The system itself will need improvements in the future as well, engaging bright young minds in developing greater security and advanced wireless architecture.

As the number of connected devices grows, so do community challenges and the possibility of collecting and managing the data they generate.

In New York City, for example, there are 2 million to 3 million connected devices, including 35,000 networked LED street lights, 817,000 wireless water meters, 5,700 smart buses, 12,700 signaled intersections and 35,000 police officers with tablets.

For a smaller city like Colorado Springs, there could be 150,000 connected devices in the future.

Wallace sees no limits in terms of the projects Colorado Springs could implement.

“We’re not focused on entertainment but on public benefit projects — transportation, public safety, education,” Wallace said.

“We’re really pleased with the chance to work with Colorado Springs,” he said, adding he expects US Ignite’s partnership with the city to last about three years, at which point most cities can sustain the effort on their own.

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