Smart City

Columbus, Ohio: What's next for the DoT Smart City Challenge winner

Finding the funding for smart city technology is often only the first step in the lengthy process of becoming a connected city.

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Columbus, Ohio is adding smart city tech.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Winning $40 million in the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DoT) Smart City Challenge has proven to be only the first of many steps for Columbus, Ohio to become the nation's first city to fully integrate self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors into its transportation network.

"It's a four-year grant cycle, and in year one there's a lot of planning going into effect," said Jeffrey Ortega, assistant director of the Columbus Department of Public Service and spokesman for Smart Columbus, the city's smart city initiative.

Columbus won the DoT challenge in June, and deployment of smart transportation will begin at some point in late 2017 or early 2018, or even beyond, Ortega said.

SEE: Columbus, Ohio wins federal 'smart city' challenge (ZDNet)

The city received an additional $10 million grant from Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Inc., and has already raised $90 million from private partners to accelerate the city's move to become an electrified, low-emissions transportation hub. The $40 million in federal money was raised through public-private partnerships including Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Inc., cloud partner Amazon Web Services, NXP Semiconductors, Mobileye, Autodesk, Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs, AT&T, DC Solar, and Continental Automotive.

But for Columbus, becoming smarter isn't just about transportation. With its total of $140 million in funding, the city is working on three smart city projects. The first is creating a connected vehicle environment; the second is adding smart streetlights; and the third is a transit pedestrian collision avoidance system, according to Ryan Bollo, project manager for Columbus' Dept. of Public Service, when speaking at the Smart Cities Week conference in Washington, D.C.

As part of its application, Columbus proposed deploying three electric self-driving shuttles to link a new bus rapid transit center to a retail district, which would connect more residents to jobs. The city also plans to use data analytics to improve healthcare access in a neighborhood that currently has an infant mortality rate four times that of the national average, allowing them to provide improved transportation options to those most needing prenatal care.

SEE: Inside Kansas City's goal to become 'the smartest city on planet earth' (TechRepublic)

The planning process has been ramping up since the grant was announced. "We've made probably seven or eight different trips to Columbus in the last three months or so. We're bringing a lot of experts to the city to make sure they have the best info as they put together their plan. It will begin in earnest next year," said Spencer Reeder, senior program officer for climate and energy at Vulcan.

But even cities that didn't win the challenge can still benefit from having entered the competition. One of the benefits of the Smart City Challenge was that it spurred not just the winning city, but many others, to file applications for the grant. The DoT received a total of 78 applications, so the 77 cities that didn't win still spent time envisioning new solutions and new technologies to improve transportation issues.

"This is part of a really important movement. We think our hunch was proven out that cities are the right place to feed this kind of transformation," Reeder said.

The top 3 takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Columbus, Ohio received a total of $140 million in federal and private partnerships to fund the addition of smart city technology.
  2. Planning in Columbus will begin in earnest early next year, with the first deployments of smart transportation in late 2017 or early 2018.
  3. The 77 cities that did not win the Smart City Challenge benefited from the creation of detailed applications that spurred additional interest in smart city technology.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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