Washington, DC - Six years ago, I joined the U.S. federal government as a Presidential Innovation Fellow. The White House established the program to bring in top innovators from the private sector who could develop game-changing projects to enable business opportunities, fuel job growth and save lives. I had over a decade of experience in creating Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and leading a pioneering, venture-backed business. When the opportunity to join the Presidential Innovation Fellow program came around, I couldn't pass it up. It meant using my expertise to contribute to the U.S. economy and the global innovation ecosystem, so I gladly left my home in Boston and moved to Washington, D.C.

The first thing I did as a Presidential Innovation Fellow was tackle, on a scale that I hadn’t imagined possible, one of the most important issues in the IoT ecosystem — fragmentation. Stakeholders were isolated from one another and were not communicating regularly, if at all. Working with the White House and NIST, I and my fellow Presidential Innovation Fellow on Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS), Geoff Mulligan, created a groundbreaking program that served as a catalyst for them to collaborate.

The program, named the SmartAmerica Challenge, brought together over 100 small and large organizations from public and private sectors. Working in teams, they looked at major issues and figured out how to develop solutions that would create new businesses, enable new jobs and save lives. The program was a resounding success and culminated in the formation and demonstration of 24 collaborative projects, ranging from autonomous vehicles to an IoT-based smart emergency response system.

Encouraged by the success of the SmartAmerica Challenge, and with the support of NIST’s Smart Grid and Cyber-Physical Systems Program, I started the next phase of this journey — the creation of a smart city collaboration and incubation initiative called the Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC). Since its inception in 2014, it has become a major source of innovation for numerous IoT and smart city projects initiated and shared by cities and communities around the globe.

Enabling Innovation: NIST's Global City Teams Challenge

NIST launched this initiative to bring together communities and technology innovators to collaborate on smart city solutions that would be accessible to all because of their reliance on standards-based approaches. The challenge fosters the creation of "action clusters" — partnerships across government, industry and academia — to address city and community goals in areas such as energy, transportation, security, public health and others. Today, the challenge has over 200 action clusters in partnership with over 150 cities and 400 companies, universities and non-profits using cyber-physical systems and IoT technologies to improve the quality of life for community residents.

Applications that are safe, secure, resilient, reliable and privacy-enhancing are essential to effective smart city solutions. Based on 2018-19 rounds of discussions, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) are co-hosting the GCTC/Smart and Secure Cities and Communities Challenge (SC3) program to highlight best practices for making cybersecurity and privacy integral to the success of smart city projects of all types and scales.

The Opportunity: Smart and Secure Cities and Communities Challenge Expo

The GCTC/SC3 Expo, coming to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., July 10-12, 2019, offers an opportunity to learn about smart city and community success stories and meet leaders in industry, academia, and local, regional and state government eager to collaborate and innovate. Hosted by NIST, DHS S&T and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the expo is anticipated to be the largest U.S. government-hosted smart city event this year, with over 1,500 attendees expected. Admission is free, but registration is required. 

Attendees will include a growing international contingent. Last November, at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Singapore, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced the U.S.-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership to help municipal governments advance the digital transformation of urban systems and increase U.S.-ASEAN commercial engagement in the digital economy. Hosted by the U.S. Department of State and the International Trade Administration, officials from more than 20 ASEAN cities will join attendees from across the U.S. and around the world, along with innovators in industry, academia and government.  

Expo Focus and Exhibits

Attendees will learn about the latest developments in smart cities and communities. The onlineagenda features more than 70 speakers, including mayors, industry executives and association leaders. The expo will highlight privacy and cybersecurity for smart cities; smart agriculture, including more efficient food production and movement to market; smart regions, connecting municipalities to regional services for transportation management, disaster response, and environmental quality; and more.

Over 70 exhibitors are expected. The expo will provide space to organizations exhibiting and demonstrating smart city and IoT solutions, with priorities given to action clusters and superclusters. Examples of the scale and scope of innovation to be illustrated by expo exhibitors include the following:

575-HOPE: Hamilton County, Ohio, had 440 heroin overdose deaths in 2018. This action cluster is implementing 575-HOPE, a text messaging platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and a staffed call center to connect those struggling with opioid addiction and their caretakers with the help they need.

Big Data and Artificial Intelligence for Road Infrastructure Sustainability: This action cluster is demonstrating the use of "RoadBotics" by the government of Cumberland, Maryland. This system allows road inspectors to use a windshield-mounted smartphone to collect visual data on road conditions for analysis by AI to rate the degree of needed repair. As a recent IEEE Spectrum headline put it, “RoadBotics AI Could Change the Way Cities Maintain Roads."

Secure Cloud Architecture SC3-cpSriA: Smart cities run largely on cloud services. This action cluster, led by the city of Syracuse, New York, is focused on architectural guidelines for security, privacy, data-protective and rights-inclusive cloud services for smart streetlight networks, catch basin monitoring, water metering, public safety and other smart city applications.

Farm to Fork Crop Tracking: This action cluster in Independence, Oregon, is demonstrating real-time monitoring of the movement and storage of highly perishable produce from farm to markets. This initiative uses sensors on individual packages of produce to signal location and conditions, thus reducing waste and ensuring higher quality. This crop tracking could enable a logistics network to connect smaller farmers to aggregate loads for large buyers, providing new markets and increased profitability.

Credit: Wabash Heartland Innovation Network

Wabash Heartland Innovation Network: This consortium of 10 counties in north-central Indiana is advancing IoT solutions for farmers and local manufacturers. The action cluster is developing agricultural and manufacturingtestbeds, along with workforce education opportunities. The goal is to promote a regional ecosystem that empowers globally competitive businesses to plant and grow in the Wabash Heartland.

It's About People

I am thrilled to work on innovative IoT and smart city and community technologies because they have an unlimited potential to make a positive socioeconomic impact for everyone. How we use technology reflects our humanity. NIST’s goal is to foster technology's use in ways that benefit communities and improve the quality of life for all. The Smart and Secure Cities and Communities Challenge Expo offers the opportunity to pursue that goal, from local to global levels. Be a part of that opportunity and join us to make it happen.