Solving Cities

The origins of smart city technology

The origins of smart city technology

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Which former U.S. president can take credit for kick-starting smart city technology?

Smart cities technology is a hot topic for IT companies. But where did the idea come from?

Information Age has an interesting article exploring the early stages and progression of the business of smart city technology. Interestingly enough, President Bill Clinton can take some credit for kick-starting this technology:

Back in 2005, through his philanthropic organisation the Clinton Foundation, the former US president challenged network equipment maker Cisco to use its technical know-how to make cities more sustainable.

As a result, Cisco dedicated $25 million over five years to research the topic, spawning what it called the Connected Urban Development programme. This involved working with the cities of San Francisco, Amsterdam and Seoul on pilot projects to prove the technology’s potential. In 2010, when Cisco’s pledge to the Clinton Foundation expired, it launched its Smart and Connected Communities division in order to commercialise the products and services that it had developed during the programme.

Of course, not too far behind, IBM had a similar vision to use information technology to make cities smarter. But while Cisco and IBM both have a smart cities focus, they are often using different strategies.

IBM’s smart city strategy is underpinned by its recent focus on information management and analytics. Through acquisition and internal R&D, the company has armed itself with analytical algorithms and data processing technologies that are essential for making sense of seas of sensor data, says [Rashik] Parmar, [president of IBM’s Academy of Technology].

Cisco’s smart city projects so far range from brownfield projects – such as a partnership with the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York to improve rail and station monitoring – to greenfield sites such as Songdo, an entirely new, sustainable city being built on reclaimed marshland in South Korea.

According to [Gordon] Feller, [Cisco’s director of urban innovations], much of the technological work involved in Cisco’s smart city projects is focused on older cities. Unlike the world of business communications where the Internet protocol has become standard, the telecommunications networks that underpin cities are typically based on incompatible legacy protocols.

Now, the $25 million investment by the Clinton Foundation is looking like a pretty good one. Major IT companies are looking for their niche in the smart cities market, which is leading to the projection that annual spending on smart city technology will reach $16 billion by 2020. With so many cities around the world in need of smart city technology, there seems to be plenty of room -- for now -- at the smart city table.

IBM, Cisco and the business of smart cities [Information Age]

Photo: my memory2/Flickr

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure