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Final 7? Smart City Teams Eye $50M

Final 7? Smart City Teams Eye $50M 

  • USDOT has selected seven finalists for its first public-private Smart City Challenge;
  • Austin, Columbus, Denver, KC, Pittsburgh, Portland, SF emerged from a field of 78;
  • Each will receive $100K to help prepare final bids ahead of final selection in June.


The Final Four may finally end this week, but the Magnificent Seven are still battling for dollars. 

Aiming to name a winner this June, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation's (USDOT) Smart City Challenge has now officially entered its final phase. Last month at South by Southwest in Austin TX, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that seven U.S. cities will compete for $50 million in prize funding to support the most promising public-private smart transportation plan. In making the announcement, which narrowed the field from 78 applicants, Secretary Foxx was joined by Rick Clemmer, CEO of NXP Semiconductors, and Barbara Bennett, President and COO of Vulcan, Inc. the 30-year-old investment firm owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen. Vulcan has promised to add $10 million to the $40-million sum already pledged by USDOT. 

Each of the seven finalists will receive $100,000 to further develop their respective plans. The contest is specifically geared toward mid-sized cities to “create a fully integrated, first-of-its-kind transportation network that uses data, technology and creativity to shape how people and goods move in the future,” according to USDOT.

Specifically, the seven cities chosen are:

"As we enter the second phase of this Challenge, (USDOT) is focusing the competition on how technology and innovation can be used to further connect people to opportunity," said Secretary Foxx in a subsequent blog post last month. "We don’t often think about it, but transportation plays a crucial rule in connecting all Americans to employment, education, healthcare, and other essential services. And the unfortunate reality is that many folks lack access to the reliable, safe, and affordable transportation they need to reach these opportunities."

Meanwhile, Americans spend more on transportation than they do on food, healthcare, and clothing, he noted. On average, low-income citizens spend nearly 25% of their annual income on transportation while those with high incomes still spend about 10% in that category. "To overcome these challenges, cities are going to have to find ways to foster the emergence of technologies that have the potential to transform transportation and improve access for disconnected communities," wrote Foxx.

Cities are going to have to find ways to foster the emergence of technologies that have the potential to transform transportation and improve access for disconnected communities
— Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation

With that in mind, Foxx noted that USDOT is also teaming with Google spin-off Sidewalk Labs to help the seven finalists to adapt and implement Flow, a platform designed to mobilize big data from a variety of sources to shape transportation outcomes. Flow helps cities determine transportation needs and congestion points by aggregating anonymized data from a plethora of consumer mobility apps, such as Waze and Google Maps. Sidewalk Labs will install over 100 kiosks in four neighborhoods within the winning city to provide free Wi-Fi and serve as mobility access points for disadvantaged citizens

For the competition, itself, USDOT and Amazon Web Services (AWS) will work with each city to foster collaboration with existing partners, provide solution architecture, and offer support on technical components of their proposals, including submitting budgets and transforming roadmaps to renderings. (The winning city will also receive $1 million worth of credits for AWS Cloud Services and AWS Professional Services.) To successfully develop renderings, the finalists are receiving access to and training on Autodesk’s modeling platform Infraworks 360, which uses 3D visualization and real world data to plan major engineering projects.

12-Step Program? The winning city will be chosen based on its solutions for these prioritized elements. 

12-Step Program? The winning city will be chosen based on its solutions for these prioritized elements. 

The winning city will be chosen based on its ability to “think big and provide a detailed roadmap on how (it) will integrate innovative technologies to prototype the future of transportation."

USDOT developed the Smart City Challenge in response to its own study, Beyond Traffic, released in 2015. Looking ahead to 2045, the report offered a frank assessment of the current state of U.S. transportation, and a bleak vision of where it is headed if problems are not fixed. It cited population and demographic changes, outdated transportation financing mechanisms, and the subpar state of U.S. infrastructure, which last earned a D+ on the American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card in 2013. (ASCE's next national report card is due later this year.)

For more details on the competition, as well as its public-private components, click here.

Below, all of the 78 cities that participated in the Challenge. Of note, the number of finalists specified at bottom left is just '5'. USDOT expanded the field to '7' because three cities tied for the last slot.

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