Tech

America’s ‘Smart City’ hasn’t become much smarter

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In 2016, Columbus, Ohio, beats 77 other small and medium-sized U.S. cities for a $ 50 million pot which was destined to reshape its future. The Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge it was the first competition of its kind, conceived as an attempt to launch a city’s adaptation to new technologies that were soon everywhere. Ride-grandin companies like it Uber and Elevator they were ascending, car sharing companies like Car2Go have increased their national profile, and autonomous vehicles seemed to be right next to the corner.

“Our proposed approach is revolutionary,” the city wrote in its winning grant proposal, which commits it to focus on projects to help the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. He has established plans to experiment with Wi-Fi-enabled kiosks to help residents plan trips, apps to pay bus and travel fares and find parking spaces, autonomous shuttles, and sensor-connected trucks.

Five years later, the Smart City Challenge is over, but the revolution has never come. According to the project’s final report, released this month by the city’s Smart Columbus Program, the pandemic was hit at the time some projects took off from the ground. Six kiosks located around the city were used to plan only eight trips between July 2020 and March 2021. The company EasyMile launched autonomous shuttles in February 2020, carrying passengers at an average speed of 4 kilometers per hour. Fifteen days later, a sudden brake he sent a knight to the hospital, pause service. The truck project was canceled. Only 1,100 people have downloaded an app, called Pivot, to plan and book trips on hail-ridden vehicles, shared bikes and scooters, and public transportation.

The discrepancy between the promise of whiz-bang technology and the reality in Columbus indicates a move away from technology like a silver bullet, and a new understanding of the problems that Internet-based applications can bring to the streets. IRL. “Smart city” was a difficult marketing term to know associated with urban optimism. Today, as citizens think more carefully about technology surveillance, The concept of a sensor in every home does not seem as brilliant as before.

However, Columbus officials insist the Smart City project has not been a failure. In fact, the final report marked the project as a success. Now Columbus wants to rethink the slippery term.

“It’s not going to be a competition for someone who has more sensors, or anything like that, and I think we’re a little distracted at some point,” says Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus, the organization tasked with continuing the work of the challenge. . Some of the challenge projects will continue. Davis says the focus will be, “How do we use technology to improve the quality of life, to solve community equity problems, to mitigate climate change, to gain prospects in the region?”

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Think about 2015, and the techno-revolutionary goals of the challenge made sense. The event was coming soon, and the DOT hoped its seed money would help a mid-sized city like Columbus work with companies to plan ahead, with equity in mind. When choosing the city, the department said it was impressed by the number of local companies that had promised additional support for the project. The challenge is “to use … advanced tools to make life better for all people, especially those living in underserved communities,” said Secretary Anthony Foxx. (He is now the political leader of Lyft.)

Now it is clear that private companies cannot predict the future of cities and perhaps do not have their best interests in mind. Davis says the Columbus selection led to a flood of proposals from companies that ultimately proved difficult to manage, and “sometimes distracting.” Meanwhile, Uber (and Lyft) have pulled out of autonomous vehicles, especially after an Uber test vehicle he hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. Brother of Google Sidewalk Labs promised in 2017 to build a future-aware neighborhood in Toronto. Ma he killed the project last year amid the pandemic and a bitter political battle with privacy advocates and local groups and developers.

Yet, smart city projects continue around the world. Toyota Avanza build an autonomous self-driving community outside of Tokyo. Sidewalk Labs were announced is recommended for real estate developers in a handful of American cities on “innovation plans”. And Alibaba-led “smart traffic” projects continue in China, Malaysia and Macau.

In the end, a smart city revolution in Columbus may have been too ambitious from the start. “A lot of people expected a lot from this project, and maybe too much,” says Harvey Miller, professor of geography and director of the Ohio State University Center for Urban and Regional Analysis, who helped plan and assess the challenge. . It indicates that $ 50 million ($ 40 million from the federal government, $ 10 million from the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.) isn’t a lot of money, especially spread over five years. It is not Columbus ’fault that the industry promises about the imminent arrival of autonomous vehicles have been greatly exaggerated.


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