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Smart Cities

Collaborative Smart City Pilots Show Promise in Improving Internet Access

Emily McPhie

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Photo of Gov. Mike DeWine by the U.S. Department of Justice used with permission

May 21, 2020 — The implementation of smart technologies may be a key in solving economic challenges at the regional level, said panelists in a BroadbandUSA webinar Wednesday.

The webinar focused on how smart city initiatives could improve sustainability and quality of life, including broadband access, featuring panelists from the Global City Teams Challenge Smart Regions Collaborative, such as Dominic Papa, vice president of the Smart States Initiative for the Arizona Commerce Authority.

“With the rise of COVID, one of the first big challenges that we saw was the inequality of remote education, and students not having the broadband connectivity at home to really download and complete their homework assignments,” Papa said. “Add on the fact that places like Starbucks and our libraries were closed due to the pandemic, it makes it extremely difficult for these students to keep up.”

“We actually saw kids sitting with their backs against the wall of the library, trying to access the internet from the outside in,” he added.

In response, the region formed a partnership with Cisco and announced a new initiative to expand Wi-Fi internet access at state libraries. The proposed solution is being tested at five libraries, Papa said, with the goal of improving the technology and then commercializing and scaling to libraries across the state.

This process of going from pilot to scale has proven difficult in the past, with Papa calling it “the main challenge that we’d really hit on in our region” and citing limited funding and staff as major roadblocks.

The model that has ultimately proven most successful in scaling, he added, is that of bringing several separate jurisdictions together in a consortium comprised of industry leaders, university researchers and greater Phoenix communities.

The consortium collaboratively designs and develops new innovative technology pilots to ensure that all communities in the region have the necessary tools to prosper in the digital age, Papa said.

Bringing technology to the urban environment can have both positive and negative outcomes, said Jonathan Fink, Director of the Digital City Testbed Center, Portland State University.

“We can make resources more accessible and get better health outcomes, which is something we’re focused on quite a bit right now around the world, reduce carbon emissions and so on,” he said. “But the negative aspects of bringing technology into cities are that there are privacy issues, there are questions about monopolization — who owns the data, how equitable is the access to the new services that can be provided?”

In order to evaluate these competing concerns and plan for successful smart city integrations, Fink presented three questions.

First, among all of the options available, how do cities evaluate which technologies are best for their urban environment? Second, how can the general public be involved in asking that same question?

Finally, how does the private sector foster collaboration and align the various components of smart city technology with each other in order to meet the needs of both the cities and the public?

All three of these groups — cities, the general public and the private sector — rely on careful testing and cooperation, Fink said.

Smart region technologies include possibilities for improved mobility, sustainability, education, cybersecurity, agriculture and more, said Mark Fisher, President and CEO of the Council of the Great Lakes Region.

The Great Lakes Region contains a third of the combined workforce of U.S. and Canada, Fisher said. If it were a country, it would have the third largest economy in the world. The scope of the binational region makes the process of demonstrating and scaling smart solutions all the more important.

“A key to this project’s success is being able to leverage and connect to the many strengths and assets that these partners have and really trying to work on these problems in a collective collaborative way,” Fisher said.

The region’s initial pilot project was undertaken was in Defiance, Ohio, which Fisher noted was an ideal location because Gov. Mike DeWine has made goals such as state-wide broadband a top priority.

According to Fisher, the next steps for the region involve vision development, funding procurement and the launch of a webinar series to share best practices.

The region will also attempt to promote and scale the Defiance pilot project by inviting new collaborators and funders to support it.

Emily McPhie was Assistant Editor with Broadband Breakfast. She studies communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she is a news editor for campus publication Student Life. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer skills to underprivileged children in six cities across Southern California.

Smart Cities

Utah Ignite Leverages Partnership with Smart Cities Fabrication Lab for Broadband Growth

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot from the Utah Ignite meeting

February 14, 2021 – Orem, Utah, enjoyed a better-than-expected economic year in 2020, partly thanks to technology-focused resources offered in the city, including the Smart Cities and Fabrication Lab at Utah Valley University, a new resource within the university’s business resource center.

The fabrication lab’s mission is to bring in startups and new technology ideas that can test and deploy new software and hardware products for smart cities, said Peter Jay, director of economic development at the Business Resource Center at UVU, speaking at a Thursday meeting of Utah Ignite.

Smart cities, he said, are those with “technological networks, internet of things, and data analysis to increase efficiency in our systems and improve our everyday lives–but on a larger scale.”

The UVU initiative is aimed at improving community transportation and utility operations, and the lab has partnered with Utah Open Source, a network boasting over 15,000 software engineers, to run the lab.

Giving the local community a lab to try out new technologies and refine them as they grow is the goal, said Jay. There was a gap between tech companies and cities in Utah, and the lab bridges the gap.

Jay also highlighted the work of Utah Ignite, a local chapter of the national non-profit group, U.S. Ignite, which is designed to promote the adoption and high of high-speed broadband applications and capabilities.

The monthly discussion also highlighted potential Utah state legislation – H.B. 218, called the “Regulatory Sandbox Program” for Utah businesses – that would allow startup companies to create new products without having to abide by certain regulations.

However, according to Utah State Rep. Cory Maloy, “anything related to public safety, consumer safety, those kinds of regulations are not waived.”

There are approx. 18 companies incubating right now at the lab, and UVU President Astrid Tuminez expressed support for it.  Jay said the lab center is even going to host an extension office to the state’s World Trade Center office.

The lab itself will be equipped with 10 gigabit per second (Gbps) broadband connections provided by UTOPIA Fiber. It powers the servers handling artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and high-end graphic simulations.

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Advanced Energy

Last-Mile Delivery and Electric Vehicles: Why Congress Should Support Logistics in the Next Infrastructure Bill

Derek Shumway

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February 3, 2021 – The problem with electric vehicles has always been that they don’t have enough battery to achieve a decent driving range at a reasonable cost, a group of experts said on a panel discussion on January 26 led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

That’s why electric cars have been eyed as a solution for improving deliveries by drivers, yet guaranteeing battery efficiency is still in the future.

Additional alternative energy vehicle options such as fuel cell-powered may serve as a complement to electric vehicles, said Amy Adams, vice president over fuel cell and hydrogen technologies at Cummins Inc. Fuel cell-powered cars may be better equipped for larger vehicles that need to travel longer distances, especially in rural areas, she said.

Despite the potential electric or fuel cell-powered cars bring, they do have drawbacks. For example, a delivery driver who drives an average of 65 miles per day makes up to 200 stops or more per day. That’s equal to 1,000 foot motions on the brakes, and that can deteriorate knee health and decrease efficiency.

Electric vehicles for delivery drivers should incorporate regenerative braking systems to capture all that lost energy for each stop made, said John Lindsey, head of electric vehicle sales for Schneider Electric North America.

But electric and fuel cell-powered cars haven’t been readily integrated into the U.S. economy compared to other countries like in Europe. That’s why delivery companies need to balance neighborhood safety with delivery driver safety, said Duane Hughes, CEO of Workhouse Group. Hughes called for the integration of lane departure and lane collision warning systems for delivery drivers to protect both themselves and others around them.

To combat additional costs from incorporating these ideas, the experts supported a standardized, universal-like nozzle fill-up system for electric and fuel cell-powered cars to reduce customization costs. Reducing the overall core weight of vehicles would also improve battery efficiency.

And incentives and grant programs are needed from the federal government to jumpstart more research and development to achieve this, said Thomas Jensen, a senior government relations executive at UPS.

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Smart Cities

Cities of the Future: Tech Companies Explore Challenges and Solutions at a CES 2021 Panel

Tim White

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Screenshot from the CES 2021 event on smart cities

January 18, 2021 – Collaboration and vision are necessary to build smart cities with integrated technology and innovation, industry leaders said at a panel at CES 2021 on Wednesday.

As cities grow and become more connected, partnerships between the public and private sectors will become more necessary, said Ashok Tipirneni, director of product management and head of platforms for smart cities at Qualcomm.

Such partnerships require dialogue and vision. Moreover, everyone involved needs to buy into that vision, added Lauren Love-Wright, vice president of network partnerships at Verizon.

Derek Peterson, chief technology officer at Boingo, said that his company developed such partnership with Google, Amazon and other businesses in Kanso Twinbrook, a community development project in Rockville, Maryland.

“One of the things we’re all getting used to is the digitization of all our experiences,” Peterson said. As more people move to urban centers, those cities face new challenges, such as traffic, energy and manufacturing, all of which require more “smart” technological connectivity to solve, he explained.

Solving those types of infrastructure problems will be different in difference cities because their populations and ages are different, said Love-Wright. For example, Verizon implemented a wireless network in Oklahoma City to assist with traffic issues. It worked well because of the town’s size, she added, but other cities may need different approaches.

Qualcomm’s Tipirneni highlighted three key aspects to smart cities: First, citizens want to get everything they need wherever they live; second, cities want to safe and smart services to all residents; and third, businesses and city departments must work together easily.

Just as everyone today uses and relies upon the convenience of a cell phone and new technologies that come from it, consumers want that same innovation in their cities.

Technology is core to the smart city concept, but policy is also a key aspect, said Love-Wright. That means that affordability is as important as accessibility to technology, she explained.

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