The terms innovation and city government don’t often find their way into the same sentence. City hall has traditionally been perceived as a place for political log jams, procedures, policies and paperwork. But with the advent of smart cities, all of that is beginning to change.
The smart city movement is taking place around the world and most recently in the United States. In its simplest form, a smart city is one that uses connected technology to make city operations more efficient and effective.
For example, the City of San Diego recently announced that they deployed 3,200 sensors on downtown light poles while replacing another 14,000 streetlights. These efforts will reduce energy costs by 60 percent and save taxpayers $2.4 million per year. This smart city technology will improve mobility, public safety and contribute to the city’s sustainability goals while reducing costs.
The topic of smart cities is becoming more widely known and was a major theme during this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW), a conference that draws hundreds of thousands of people to Austin each March. Created in 1987 as a music festival, SXSW has ballooned into a multi-program event that also includes Film, Education and Interactive, which focuses on technology trends and topics. In 2016 more than 37,660 people from 82 foreign countries participated in 1,377 sessions at SXSW Interactive.
There were dozens of sessions and events at SXSW this year focused on future tech and smart cities, bringing together city leaders, private sector innovators and even nonprofits. On the first day and first hour of SXSW Interactive, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke on a panel joined by Joe Kochan, co-founder of US Ignite and corporate executives from Intel and Verizon. Days later, SXSW Interactive concluded with Smart City Day, where 25 smart city leaders including mayors from Denver, San Antonio, Lafayette and even Machester, England gave 10-minute lightning talks on everything from interactive kiosks to the future of work when thousands of jobs will be automated.
As diverse as all of the events were at SXSW, they all had one thing in common – outlining the tremendous promise smart cities bring for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Cities need new technologies that can connect, streamline, share and optimize city services. There are opportunities in the areas of big data, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence not to mention new approaches to engaging and communicating with citizens and residents.
Hardware company Nuweil makes an IoT-enabled delivery cart that wirelessly connects to sensor-laden bicycles to make in-city delivery more efficient while decreasing pollution. Audi and UPS recently signed on as partners. Bractlet, in Austin, Texas, seeks to reduce energy costs by 50% by analyzing building data and forecasting future usage. Open Data Nation, based in DC, uses predictive analytics from public data to help assess and mitigate risk related to restaurants and health inspections. All of these startups were featured during Smart City Day at SXSW.
The topic of smart cities is just beginning to get some buzz. Businesses that can deliver products and services that help cities collect and analyze data to increase cost-savings and enhance the urban quality of life, will see a new level of interest and attention. When entrepreneurs and innovators work together with civic leaders and corporate partners, the world gets smarter.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.