The Race For Smart Cities From The Leading Edge

Originally featured on the Huffington Post. 

One of the more interesting trends in technology is the global race currently underway for the truly smart city. The U.S Department of Transportation recently announced the City of Columbus, Ohio as the winner of a $40 million dollar Smart City Challenge. While this certainly helps that city’s chances, you can not simply throw money at a city to make it compete in the global race to smart. This accomplishment will require a multilayer of partnerships, with a foundation that integrates key components to work together.

As with any competitive new market, there are startups, large companies, corporations, organizations and other groups leading the way forward. Some of the more well known leaders include Sidewalk Labs by Google, the Smart Cities Council, StratIS, Current by GE and AirBnB. I reached out to leaders of some of these organizations for more information.

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Philip Bane is the Managing Director at Smart Cities Council, he has been with the Council since September 2014.

“I have been working for the last 10 years on developing data management tools for managing resources for cities (energy, water, people).” he said. “My primary interest now is innovation for inclusion – finding ways to extend the benefits of deployable technology to underserved groups.”

The Smart Cities Council hosts the second annual Smart Cities Week on September 27-29.

“Smart Cities Week Washington DC is North America’s largest Conference and Expo about the Smart Cities sector,” Bane said. “Last year we had over 1000 attendees and this year expect about 1500. Attendance is from city stakeholders globally, with several country pavilions and programs ranging from Doing Business Globally to Compassionate Cities to a White House sponsored session held at the White House.”

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I am proud to be a member of one of the Teams that is creating a foundation for Smart Cities. Our company, StratIS, offers access, energy, and automation management and control for commercial residential, or multifamily properties. It’s smart building meets smart home for apartments. StratIS created a platform to remotely control and manage door locks and thermostats, amongst other things, building-wide, and is doing this at a vastly greater speed and quality than our competition, while priced to disrupt the market to create IoT ubiquity.

“We see Smart Cities as a tremendous opportunity to shape the world with technology, but admittedly the amount of forethought necessary to create something that can enable that impact is rare without a defined mission,” said Felicite Moorman, CEO and cofounder. “The most viable technologies in Smart Cities will forgo planned obsolescence but remain price competitive to enable ubiquity. They’ll be secure, with well-thought privacy policies and include software and hardware that is easily updated and upgraded without additional cost. Lastly, they’ll be beautifully designed to encourage adoption and engagement, thereby achieving that for which it was installed, whether it’s energy savings, waste management, or communication.”

StratIS recently installed its 100,000th unit and is used on over 350 properties in 45 states. This is consequential because of the complexity of the task and rate of adoption, just two of many reasons companies have spent years of development and millions of dollars trying to do what StratIS has accomplished in just over 12 months.

“The variety and complexity of commercial residential spaces has historically made it very difficult to cost-effectively address the plethora of “smart” needs with one platform,” according to Moorman. “At StratIS, our focus is to provide one easily customized and cost-effective software platform with integrated hardware and simple installation methods, that will plug into larger Smart City initiatives in a meaningful and impactful way. The home is the heart of the city, and the home in cities is multifamily. We cannot afford to ignore, or consider as an afterthought, that which encompasses as much as two times the footprint of traditional commercial space. Indeed, I encourage City Planners to start with multifamily.”

The global housing and smart city markets have taken notice and are ready to embrace the rapid success of this platform and implement that success globally. StratIS CEO, Felicite Moorman will be presenting a keynote address, MultiFamily: Smart Start for Smart Cities at Smart Cities Innovation Summit Asia and be featured in Innovation Alley at Smart Cities Council’s Smart Cities Week in September.

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AirBnB is also keeping a close eye on the Smart Cities race. For those unaware, Airbnb is an online marketplace that enables people to list, find, then rent vacation homes for a processing fee. It has more than 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries.

I spoke with Maria Rodriguez, Head of Global Consumer Communications at Airbnb about the company’s interest and involvement in the Smart Cities movement.

“We have partnered with many cities around the world, but typically those partnerships are not about harnessing Airbnb’s technology,” she said. “They’re instead about harnessing Airbnb’s community of hosts who are citizens of those cities.”

According to Rodriguez, AirBnB’s technology empowers hosts to become more engaged citizens, unofficial ambassadors to their city, and collaborative partners with their city government.

“To us, a truly smart city is one that leverages technology to engage better with their community, and we are happy to partner in whatever we can,” she said. “We’ll have more to share re: how we help developers design more shareable and flexible housing from the ground up.”

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Off course, you cannot talk innovation without mentioning Google. Sidewalk Labs is Alphabet Inc.’s urban innovation organization. It aims to improve urban infrastructure through technological solutions, and is focused on efficient transportation, energy usages and the cost of living. The program is headed by Daniel Doctoroff, the former deputy mayor of New York City.

According to Doctoroff, when Larry Page announced the creation of Sidewalk Labs last summer, he recognized that digital innovations have an enormous capacity to address big urban challenges like housing affordability, transportation efficiency, and energy conservation. One of the barriers to faster and wider change is a lack of dialogue between the people who live in today’s cities and the folks who build tomorrow’s technologies. Larry’s diagnosis of the problem was spot on: it takes a strong “big-picture view of the many factors that affect city life” to “develop the technologies and partnerships you need to make a difference.”

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Powerhouse General Electric is also investing time and resources into the Smart City movement. According to their Facebook page, “Current, powered by GE, is a digital power service built to transform the way we use energy.”

Imagine using the most advanced technologies to make real-time decisions about your energy use. Imagine intelligent environments where buildings can generate power on-site, or on the grid through networked lighting. Imagine Smart Cities where road fixtures can communicate with parking spaces.”

According to Current’s website, they achieved $1 billion in revenue during their first year and they are the first to build holistic energy solutions for cities and businesses.

Regardless of which cities around the world become the first truly Smart Cities, it is evident that there are many brilliant people and world renowned companies working on making this movement a reality. Because of the complicated infrastructure of modern day cities, companies and organizations who attempt to create Smart Cities alone will fail. The strongest path to success will be from companies that create strategic partnerships that use the unique expertise of each partner.

If you are a company working on making cities smart, leave a comment on this article and let me know what you are working on.