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

The V2X and V2V communications infrastructure is based on the Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) protocol. NXP is bringing its V2X and V2V technologies to market via a hardware and software package called BlueBox, which integrates radar, lidar, cameras and secure V2X software into an appliance that the company is currently testing with carmakers. It is designed to support increasingly autonomous vehicle functionality.

This summer, Zients said, the federal government will be announcing guidelines for the use of self-driving vehicles, as well as for the use of V2V communications systems.

In its winning bid, Columbus, which is quickly growing and is home to many tech startups, said it would use autonomous shuttles to connect "the first mile and the last mile"—referring to the distances between one's home and public transit centers, and between those centers and a workplace—in order to make commuting easier and less carbon-intensive. In its animated pitch video, in fact, is a shuttle that looks exactly like Olli, the autonomous vehicle that Local Motors debuted last week. Local Motors, an eight-year-old startup, partnered with IBM to develop the vehicle's navigation engine, which uses IBM's Watson developer application programming interfaces (APIs) to power such applications as text-to-speech, speech-to-text and natural language classifiers, enabling passengers to "converse" with Olli and ask it questions about the route it is selecting. Olli uses Watson's cloud-based cognitive-computing capability to collect data from more than 30 sensors embedded in the vehicle.

Columbus will also deploy a wireless communications platform that will connect its city-owned car fleet and public transit vehicles with sensors mounted at intersections, in order to optimize traffic flow and support safety applications. Additionally, the city plans to test connected-vehicle technology to make the movement of freight traffic safer and more efficient by having trucks wirelessly communicate with each other and coordinate their speed via a traffic signal management system, in order to keep the trucks rolling with fewer breaks for red lights. Plus, a smartphone app designed for truckers will provide real-time traffic information.

Another smartphone app for visitors will encourage tourists to use public transit, by providing navigation guidance and linking directions with event information coordinated.

In addition to the $50 million from the DOT and Vulcan, Columbus has secured another $90 million from various public and private sources to help fund its smart-city program.

"We're very excited about the opportunity to make Columbus America's first smart city," said Andrew Ginther, the city's mayor, "and to serve as a laboratory for other cities around the country and the world."

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