Navigant Research Blog

Smart Cities NYC ‘17 Themes Reveal an Evolving Market

— May 25, 2017

The revitalized Brooklyn Navy Yard brought together academia, non-profits, private industry, and government leaders from around the world for the Smart Cities NYC ’17 conference and expo. Deliberating the future intersection of technology and urban life, key themes over the 3-day conference included digital inclusion, citizen empowerment, and the potential for technology to increase resident access to essential city services. It was encouraging to see the emphasis on digital inclusion and accessibility displayed by leading suppliers and city officials.

Digital Inclusion and Accessibility

A good example of how digital inclusion is being approached was provided by Microsoft, along with its partners G3ict and World Enabled, with the launch of the Smart Cities for All Toolkit. The toolkit is designed to help city officials and urban planners make more inclusive and accessible smart cities, particularly for the more than 1 billion people with a disability around the world. Tools developed for cities include a guide for adopting information and communications technology (ICT) accessibility standards and a guide for ICT accessible procurement policies, among others. The Smart Cities for All initiative is also in the process of developing a Smart Cities Digital Inclusion Maturity Model that will help cities evaluate their progress toward their ICT accessibility and digital inclusion targets.

A desire for greater inclusivity could also be seen on the transportation side, with many cities discussing the possibilities offered by mobility as a service (MaaS) solutions. MaaS has the potential to broaden transport options and lowers costs for consumers, enabling residents to have better access to potential areas of employment or leisure. One of the common initiatives is the deployment of multimodal transportation planning apps. These solutions, as shown in Conduent’s MaaS apps in Denver, Los Angeles, and most recently Bengaluru, allow residents to choose between an array of public and private options (such as bus, train, rideshare, carshare, and bikeshare) and help inform users of the cheapest or fastest ways to travel. Eventually, cities will be able to offer incentives and discounts to riders for taking certain transport options, for example, to mitigate congestion.

Bridging the Digital Divide

The primary goal of the global smart cities movement is to utilize technology to improve the quality of life in cities. While concerns about security and privacy have been well-documented, less focus is given to the potential for smart cities to increase the divide between small and large cities, the wealthy and the poor, and the healthy and the sick. To ensure these divisions are reduced rather than worsened, smart city programs need to ensure all segments of the population reap the benefits digital technology can provide.

These themes from the conference, along with recent major projects announced in cities such as San Diego and Columbus, provide further evidence that the smart cities market is evolving from one-off pilot projects toward more holistic outcome-focused approaches that consider the needs of all city residents and communities.

 

Smart Parking Market: Higher Quantity of Projects, but Smaller Project Sizes

— March 15, 2017

The smart parking industry continues to grow as an increasing number of cities struggle with traffic congestion and inadequate parking availability. However, there has been a notable shift in the market over the past few years. The early stages of smart parking projects were marked by several citywide, high profile deployments—such as those in Moscow (over 11,000 sensors deployed), San Francisco (over 11,000 sensors deployed), and Los Angeles (over 8,000 sensors deployed). Although these projects have demonstrated success in reducing congestion and parking search times, obtaining the necessary funding for similarly sized projects has proved challenging in some jurisdictions without government subsidies. The result has been a move toward a higher quantity of projects being developed (particularly in smaller cities), while the average project size has decreased.

A Prime Example

Cardiff, the capital and largest city in Wales (about 350,000 inhabitants), is one of the latest examples of a smaller city deploying a modest-sized smart parking project. Working with Australia-based Smart Parking Ltd., Cardiff is deploying around 3,000 sensors (in on-street and off-street locations) for its smart parking solution, which is building off a successful pilot program in 2015 that covered 275 parking bays across the city. The solution includes variable message signage directing drivers to open parking spots throughout Cardiff and a smartphone app that provides real-time parking availability and guidance. Additionally, Smart Parking’s software program, SmartRep, collects data from the sensors to analyze how parking spaces are being used. This provides the Cardiff City Council with tools to develop improved day-to-day parking management and future parking policy and planning.

New Developments Spurring Growth

While a higher number of smaller projects has characterized the smart parking market over the last few years, new product and technology developments offer the potential to accelerate adoption in the industry. The trend toward more hybrid and integrated business models is increasing, with a focus on reducing expensive hardware and instead utilizing more software and data applications. Increasingly, smart parking systems are also expected to be integrated with broader smart city deployments such as smart street lighting and automated vehicle infrastructure. Additionally, improving sensor technology is resulting in sensors with extended battery life and increased accuracy. These trends point toward a growing market in the coming years, with the potential for an eventual resurgence in larger smart parking projects. Time will tell if the resurgence in larger citywide deployments will develop incrementally (through separate projects in multiple city neighborhoods) or through a return to large single deployments. Currently, Navigant Research assesses the former scenario (incremental approach) to be more likely in the near term as cities target specific areas with particularly bad congestion.

For more information on the smart parking industry, check out Navigant Research’s report, Smart Parking Systems.

 

US Smart Cities Market Continues Momentum through Readiness Challenge Grants

— February 22, 2017

SmartCityThis month, the Smart Cities Council announced the five winning US cities of the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant program. These cities—Austin, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Miami, Florida; Orlando, Florida; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—will receive a package of benefits from the Smart Cities Council, the world’s largest smart cities network. These benefits include city-specific readiness workshops, as well as an array of products and services from Council member companies. The workshops are expected to help the chosen cities develop a strategic approach toward utilizing smart technologies in a way that increases infrastructure innovation and investment. Some examples of the smart city products and services that Council member companies will be providing to the winning cities include:

  • Ameresco: Consulting services to optimize smart street lighting
  • AT&T: 25 AT&T Internet of Things (IoT) Starter Kits
  • Sensus: Free citywide hosted communications network for 1 year
  • Telit: Free access to the Telit IoT platform
  • Transdev: Up to 3 days of technical assistance in developing more efficient urban mobility options

Each city is focused on its own unique challenges as part of the Readiness Challenge Grants:

  • Austin is focusing on affordable housing, mobility, and economic development
  • Indianapolis has placed an emphasis on smart utilities and transportation
  • Miami is targeting urban resilience and climate adaptation
  • Orlando is centering on a comprehensive smart city plan with multiple department integration and regional stakeholders (with a particular focus on smart transportation and security)
  • Philadelphia is building a regional smart cities ecosystem through a coalition of city, community, business, and educational institutions

Evolving Initiatives

The Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant program is expected to help the selected cities reach their goals for improved public services and build on the momentum generated by several important initiatives in the United States over the last few years. The White House Smart Cities Initiative was originally launched in September 2015 and included an initial investment of over $160 million for federal research and technology collaboration efforts to help municipalities address key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of climate change, and improving the delivery of city services. In mid-2016, Columbus, Ohio was officially announced as the winner of the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Smart City Challenge. The city is set to receive a total of $140 million, with combined contributions from the DOT ($40 million), Seattle-based company Vulcan ($10 million), and a group of local businesses called the Columbus Partnership ($90 million).

These initiatives demonstrate how the smart city concept is being embraced and implemented in the United States. With over 130 cities applying for the Readiness Challenge Grants, US cities are increasingly looking to achieve greater efficiency in the delivery of important public services such as transportation, water delivery, and public safety. Initiatives such as these from the Smart Cities Council, in addition to several national programs, are helping US cities develop long-term digital infrastructure strategies and implement high-impact smart city projects.

 

Ford Makes $1 Billion Bet on Artificial Intelligence Startup as Recruiting Tool

— February 10, 2017

Electric Vehicle 2Over the past 4 years, Ford has made a concerted effort to move from also-ran status to vying for the lead in the race to produce automated vehicles. The latest move by the company is a 5-year, $1 billion investment in Pittsburgh-based Argo AI. The artificial intelligence startup will operate semi-independently while developing the virtual driver platform for the automated vehicles that Ford has promised to start producing by 2021. However, the deal seems less about acquiring technology today than acquiring new talent in the coming months and years.

Startup Power

Argo AI was founded in late 2016 by Google self-driving car program veteran Brian Salesky and Peter Rander, who led Uber’s automated car program until September 2016. The total investment of $1 billion will be parceled out over the next 5 years to fund the operating expenses of the company and to provide equity incentives to new employees in order to help with recruiting.

Ford plans to retain control of all hardware product development and manufacturing internally, as that’s where the automaker’s expertise lies. The Argo team, which has plans to grow to a staff of 200 engineers by the end of 2017, will work on developing the so-called virtual driver software platform that will control the vehicle. The software team will be integrated into the product development process as it moves forward with trying to make the system robust enough to be able to fully operate without a human driver. Ford has been developing its automated driving platform over the past several years to get its software platform where it is today.

The fact that Ford has gotten this far down the development timeline with a committed production date only about 4 years away does raise some questions. An investment of this size into a startup at this stage implies that there may be issues with the automaker’s in-house software platform. However, Ford chief technology officer Raj Nair emphasized during a conference call to announce the deal that Argo’s expertise will be used to further enhance what Ford has already built.

Attracting Talent

The existing engineers working on Ford’s platform will move over to the Argo AI team to become core employees of that company. As such, they will be eligible for the stock compensation plan that Argo is putting in place, which is typical of Silicon Valley startups. Since Argo has only existed for a few months, it’s unlikely that the company has built a complete system that would replace what Ford already has. Instead, it appears that Ford saw an opportunity with Argo to put in place a corporate structure that would enable it to tackle one of the thorniest issues that the auto industry faces in the race to deploy advanced technology: recruiting.

Traditional companies have long had difficulty attracting some of the top talent away from Silicon Valley, where they see startups as a potential pathway to a huge payday with an initial public offering. Many of those companies with limited funds pay employees with stock options that can be worth millions if the company succeeds and the employee sticks around. That doesn’t happen with regular Ford employees.

Ford CEO Mark Fields acknowledged on the call that an Argo IPO at some stage is a possibility if the company succeeds. Investing in what is essentially a brand new company with some proven leaders in the form of Rander and Salesky is an interesting new approach to the talent acquisition problem.

 

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