RALEIGH — Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin opened the 2023 Connected Triangle+ Summit yesterday, welcoming innovators, city leaders, and start-ups seeking to support a more connected community. The event, which took place at the Raleigh Convention Center, was sold out and brought together more than 300 participants.

Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin opens the Connected Triangle+ Summit

Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin opens the Connected Triangle+ Summit.

Much of the conference focused on the +. As the Raleigh Smart City Manager John Holden said in opening comments, the smart “city” term is limiting. The ability to be a successful smart city requires the sharing of data, access, and funding beyond cities, to other regions, municipalities, and even states. Tom Snyder, Executive Director of conference partner RIoT echoed this sentiment.

“We need to be forward-thinking about regional collaboration,” said Snyder. “We really need to be thinking about smart regions or states and [about] collaborating, sharing data, sharing best practices, not feeling like every single jurisdiction needs to do everything themselves. So today is about how do we collaborate, across jurisdictions, with the public and private partnerships, with nonprofit communities, etc.”

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Digital Conversations

Keynote speaker Jim Mills, an Industry Workflow Specialist at Dell Technologies, spoke about the ways in which Dell is working to support the collection – and use – of data for supporting smart cities and resident experiences. Mills spoke extensively about using artificial intelligence to support these goals and allowing AI tools to monitor, collect, and alert for issues. The extensive and incredible use cases can allow for safer, more efficient, and sustainable experiences.

Mills also demoed “Clara” – the digital human created by Dell. Clara is – visually – a woman who is able to speak and interact with users asking questions. Cities like Amarillo, Texas are using variations on Clara to create interactive experiences for users with the intent of making it easier to find answers to common questions through a more casual, conversational approach. The Clara tools can speak multiple languages and are populated with data to address common questions and concerns. According to reports, Amarillo paid $582,000 earlier this year for their version of the tool named “Sophie.”

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Morning sessions revolved around panels on digital equity, sustainability, and data sharing. So many of the issues smart communities try to address start with digital access and community development.

“Most jobs require that you apply online now and if you don’t have access to the internet, or don’t have a device, or don’t have the skills, now that’s impacting your ability to get a job,” said Emily Gangi, Policy Director for the NCDIT Division of Broadband and Digital Equity. “It’s also impacting your ability to train for a job, so it’s keeping people from getting the skills they need to earn a higher wage and to be able to afford to live in communities that are better connected.”

Lunch included a “fireside chat” with Dan Cotter, Principal Director of the Office of Science and Engineering with the Department of Homeland Security, and Kyle Conner,​ CISCO’s Technology Business Development Manager.

Smart Start-ups

In the afternoon, Raleigh’s RIoT sponsored a reverse pitch contest for smart city start-ups including Katabasis, TELLUS Sensors, Throne LabsMyMatR, and Acta Solutions.

Representatives from RIoT award Thorne Labs with the winning check.

The pitch winner was Throne Labs with their accessible, sustainable, and portable bathroom solution. The company earned $1,000 thanks to sponsorship by NC IDEA and others, and the opportunity to present at the Smart Cities Connect Conference & Expo Spring 2024. That event, an international conference for smart community development, will take place in Raleigh next May.

Wrap Up

The day ended with comments from Mark Wittenburg, Raleigh CIO, and Heather McDougall, the Director of the Office of Strategy and Innovation. But as John Holden mentioned in his comments, they’re not done yet.

Summit organizers already have plans to meet with the community in December and discuss “actionable items” and takeaways from the event.

“Today’s Summit is to continue and jump-start the collaborative nature of our communities across the Triangle,” said Holden. There’s so much work to do.