How challenges turn cities into tech laboratories

How challenges turn cities into tech laboratories

Federal, state and local governments are increasingly using smart city challenges to address societal problems and pilot and deploy new technologies.

“We’ve invested over $350 million in development and deployment of new technologies that help cities solve pressing challenges,” the White House Senior Advisor for Innovation and Policy Daniel Correa said.

Though local governments are typically on the front lines in dealing with traffic, crime and chronic homelessness, Correa said it’s only lately that communities “have begun to take the lead in becoming laboratories of innovation ... to actually tackle many of those challenges.”

The administration is also working to expand the pipeline of focused investments in research and development and increase technologies available to local governments. By testing new tools in cities with users, agencies are able to get a feel for what works so they can scale and deploy them more broadly.

For example, the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge earlier this year produced  a variety of innovative solutions related to transportation. “That’s an interesting model that we like a lot,” Correa told the audience at the Nov. 2 Verizon Smart Cities event in Washington, D.C. It benefits not just the winning city that received public- and private-sector funding, he said, but all the communities that put together creative solutions.

California state agencies and the White House Council on Environmental Quality are hoping for similar creative solutions in the California Water Data Challenge. The competition calls for the development of data-based tools, applications, websites and visualizations that could help the state address its drought problem and build a sustainable water system, according to the California Department of Technology.

Competitors must use publically available water-related datasets from the state’s Open Data Portal and challenge website, and focus on specific water issues mentioned in the California Water Action Plan, such as uncertain water supplies, poor water quality and climate change. Teams and individuals have until Dec. 5 to submit their innovations; winners will be chosen on Dec. 9.

In other efforts supporting the White House’s smart city initiatives, the Smart Cities Council is accepting applications for its Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grants. These grants will help five cities deploy smart technologies for urban livability, workability and sustainability. Each grantee will receive a custom one-day readiness workshop for government, private sector and academic partners as well as products and services from the Smart Cities Council’s member companies.

These types of challenges can also improve the security of new technologies and applications, according to Correa. Along with the value of assessing the capabilities of the technology, he said, pilots are “valuable because they also provide a testing ground … for tackling issues like security and privacy and ensuring that we work closely with the public.”

Correa cited  the success of the Defense Department’s recent Hack the Pentagon event, in which the department ran a two-week bug bounty program that challenged hackers to find vulnerabilities in DOD’s public websites. “That’s something that I think we need to see more broadly applied,” he said.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.

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