‘Smart Cities,’ internet of things are maturing – and Triangle is helping lead the way | WRAL TechWire

‘Smart Cities,’ internet of things are maturing – and Triangle is helping lead the way

‘Smart Cities,’ internet of things are maturing – and Triangle is helping lead the way

Internet of Things (Pixabay)


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – I spent last week in Washington DC, speaking at and participating in a number of Smart City conversations. One day was spent with the Canadian consulate and a number of startups bringing technology to the public sector. RIoT led a startup pitch competition at Smart Cities Connect, the most significant US conference that covers the intersection of technology, data and the communities we live in. And I had the opportunity to lead a keynote conversation about regional technology collaboration.

[Aside – SCC will hold their next conference in Raleigh May 8-10, 2024].

The Smart City market sector is growing rapidly. The majority of projects and progress is at the municipal level. That is why conferences and other forms of convening are so important, so local governments can share best practices and learn from each other. But there is still a long way to go before we could truly call Smart Cities mature.

I’ll share a few observations and takeaways to help define where the industry stands today.

Public Trust is Lagging

Counties and Municipalities are still struggling to find a balance between the data collection necessary to enable “smart” applications and maintaining the public’s trust that we are not moving towards a surveillance state. Solutions to improve pedestrian safety or detect gunshots, for example, require cameras and microphones. While there are analytic capabilities to prevent the collection of personally identifiable information, the public sector is still struggling to secure community trust that they are not actually collecting that data. There are plenty of gray area applications, like license plate detection, that muddy the water.

Pilot Purgatory

Small scale pilot projects abound throughout the industry and across the country. But large scale expansion has struggled to take off. I sense a big challenge has been that the private side of public-private partnerships picture “scaling” a solution as expanding it to the entire jurisdiction they are selling to. This paradigm exists in private markets where once a small scale pilot is proven, then a complete market rollout follows. But in the public sector, we are discovering that “scaling” really means moving to a deployment phase, where solutions are selectively deployed only in areas of the community that truly need it. Not every single intersection or streetlight or trash receptacle needs to be smart. Many projects are stalling post-pilot as these differences are worked out.

Regionalism is the next Frontier

Nearly all challenges facing counties and municipalities require data from outside a local jurisdiction. Stormwater, traffic, air pollution, crime, disease.  All of these flow across jurisdictional boundaries. There is increasing recognition that there is value to measuring things outside your borders before they cross into them. Raleigh, Cary, Morrisville and several other Triangle area governments have kicked-off a regional collaboration initiative to explore how to standardize data capture and sharing, to make us a truly smart region. I believe we are ahead of the curve in the next chapter of Smart Cities.

Technology Infrastructure

Infrastructure has always been the foundation upon which applications and use cases can be built. Roads enable everything from commerce to tourism to parades. Sewer systems enable public health, environmental quality and population density. Sensors and communications networks are the backbone of new technology infrastructure. Communities that run municipal electric and water utilities are at a significant advantage compared to places with private utilities. Vertical assets like telephone poles, street lights and water towers are instrumental for deployment of dense sensor networks and antennas for wireless communication. When those are public assets, the government can move much more quickly and affordably, avoiding access fees and lease agreements. The value proposition for technology deployment onto public infrastructure can span many use cases that are frankly, not in the direct interests of private utilities who add friction to deployment in many cases. Cary is one of the first cities in the world deploying a public LoRa wireless network, putting in place important infrastructure for a Smart City future.

Procurement is Complex

For several years, the loudest complaints from the private sector have been about the difficulty of government procurement processes. Nearly all solutions are procured locally, and every jurisdiction has their own version of how things are bought in the public’s interest. It can be argued that Europe, Canada and other regions are ahead of the US in technology deployment, simply because procurement is more standardized. The good news is that education is spreading in the private sector, while we start to see experimentation in the public sector in parallel. I sense this is more a nuisance issue than a real impediment to market progress.

In summary, I think the industry is at a tipping point with most cities and counties at a point of maturity from a smart city pilot project perspective. The first generation of learning how to deploy IoT sensors, collect and analyze data and create value for the public is completed. The next step is to scale deployment and work cross-jurisdictionally. The Triangle is leading the way and well positioned for the future.