Columbus Wins DOT's Smart City Challenge

The Midwestern city beat out Austin, San Francisco, Portland and three other tech-savvy cities, winning $50 million to fund connected-technology improvements to its transportation infrastructure.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 24, 2016

Ohio is having a winning week. First, its Cleveland Cavaliers made history, claiming its first NBA title (and becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit during the finals). Now, Columbus, Ohio, has won the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)'s Smart City Challenge, edging out a group of six other finalist cities, culled from 87 applicants vying for $40 million in DOT funding, along with $10 million pledged by Vulcan, an organization founded by Microsoft's Paul Allen to fund technology designed to address climate change, in order to help the winning city build out an electric vehicle infrastructure. The contest was launched in December of last year.

Austin, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco were the other six finalists. "More than developing new technology, the Smart City Challenge required mayors to envision new solutions to close the gap between rich and poor, and bridge the digital divide through smart design to meet the needs of all residents," said DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx during a press call to announce the winner. "All seven candidate [cities] dreamed big, designing first-of-their-kind transit corridors, EV [electric vehicle] fleets and cars, and buses with vehicle-to-vehicle [V2V] technology." But Columbus, he said, "put forward an impressive, holistic vision for all residents. It was able to connect problems," such as longer travel times due to a growing population, impacting the environment and quality of life, with "specific, measurable technology solutions."

Jeff Zients, director of the National Economic Council (which advises the President on economic matters), described the Smart City Challenge as a call for cities to use technology to transform their transportation systems to reduce emissions, increase access to transportation to all citizens, and decrease the incidence of accidents. All seven of the final candidates pitched programs that would utilize V2V communications, self-driving and electric vehicles, in ways that would integrate Internet of Things technology. In addition, most of the private companies that have agreed to work with the DOT to support the winning program—Amazon Web Services, NXP Semiconductors, Mobileye, Autodesk, Sidewalk Labs, AT&T, DC Solar and Continental Automotive—also utilize, sell or support IoT technologies.

Mobileye will provide Columbus with its Shield +TM driver-assistance safety technology, which uses cameras and computer vision to help bus drivers avoid collisions with cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists. Sidewalk Labs, a part of Google parent company Alphabet, will provide it with public data collection services and a transportation analytics platform.

In a press release issued last month, NXP said its involvement in the Smart City Challenge project will include the use of NXP's "vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology, long-range, secure and private RFID tagging for automatic vehicle identification and road-safety systems, and smart card ICs to enable secure admission to transportation, access control, retail and other municipal services." V2X refers to communications between vehicles or between a vehicle and infrastructure, such as a short-range radio device attached to a lamppost or traffic light.

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