The 117th Congressional Smart Cities Caucus is built on the four pillars of mobility, connectivity, sustainability and workforce, noted Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), co-chair of the caucus that kicked off with a webinar March 25. Each one of these pillars must be a central piece in the smart revolution as communities try to harness smart technology to improve life for their residents. The caucus aims to share ideas about how communities can benefit from new forms of smart technology, and how federal policymaking can spur innovation. Modernizing infrastructure in urban, suburban and rural areas in ways that are efficient and equitable will “take our communities out of the Stone Age and into the 21st Century,” Clarke commented. However, communities will only be able to capitalize on the data that comes from smart applications if they have the proper resources to understand it. Clarke said she and Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) plan to introduce the Smart Cities and Communities Act to help governments have resources to implement smart cities programs. Among other things, the legislation will establish an interagency task force and initiate a skilled workforce training program.
Caucus Co-chair Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said the caucus needs to educate Congress on what 21st Century infrastructure is necessary for citizens to be able to compete at home and abroad. Smart technology is available, but we don’t use it, he added. Issa pointed to golfing great Tiger Woods’ recent automobile accident as a missed smart-cities opportunity. The black box inside Woods’ vehicle knew more about the accident than the street furniture, city or surrounding area did. Why should people be idling at a red light when there is no oncoming traffic, he mused. People use advanced mapping systems to understand which route to take to avoid traffic and compare destination times. This advancement has come in spite of the fact cities have not produced the companion interface that allows everyone to know it. Along with education, Issa is hoping that legislation and future appropriations also can provide dollars and direction to cities, counties and rural areas that want to innovate.
Steve Crout, Director of Policy and Resilience Programs, Smart Cities Council, moderated the webinar, which featured Alice Tornquist, Vice President for Spectrum and Technology Policy, Qualcomm Inc.; Nadia El Mallakh, Area VP, Strategic Partnerships and Ventures, Xcel Energy; John DeBoer, Head of Siemens Future Grid and eMobility Solutions, North America; and Dr. Rikin Thakker, CTO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, along with the representatives.
Crout noted that Smart Cities Council and WIA are partnering to develop a smart cities policy committee that will help promote federal legislative and regulatory initiatives. His discussion with panelists focused on communication, energy, mobility and workforce, all of which will be needed for smart city transformations. Learn more about workforce initiatives here.
5G is going to be transformative, enabling new business models, and use cases, according to Qualcomm’s Tornquist. Qualcomm is a leading chipset manufacturer whose products are found in smartphones, tablets and other devices including vehicles. For example, an ambulance equipped with 5G services can send high-definition images to the hospital before the ambulance arrives.
On Qualcomm’s campus, the company is implementing smart campus initiatives. To date, solutions have been deployed that allow employees to opt in for license-plate recognition for vehicle recognition, solar-powered smart bins to help with more efficient waste management and real-time information on bus and shuttle schedules.
On a policy front, more work needs to be done to address the digital divide, Tornquist said.
Bringing in the energy sector is necessary to get cities to smart, noted Xcel Energy’s El Mallakh, because “we are going to be the ones that are powering these smart communities and cities.” Energy utilities are infrastructure companies at their core and deeply embedded in their communities, she continued. Utilities can help cities leverage economies of scale and take advantage of existing street furniture like streetlights. “We think the key here is ‘partnership, partnership, partnership’ ” and having the industry involved from the beginning of a project helps to ensure smart communities are being built safely and with reliable networks.
In the transportation sector, “the electrification of transport is one of the most amazing things we can do right now,” Siemens’ DeBoar commented. Siemens made a commitment to get to carbon net neutral by 2030 and as of 2020 is 54 percent of the way there. Transportation is essential to everything society does and transforming the way we drive cars, buses and trucks will help get to a carbon net neutral environment. However, the United States is behind other countries in having the necessary infrastructure to get there, DeBoar noted.
Smart cities will rely on new technologies, including 5G, said WIA’s Thakker. Going forward, workforce initiatives will be crucial for effectively deploying 5G because the workforce must be skilled to deploy these new technologies. 5G deployments are enabling massive connectivity to machines and devices, sensors and infrastructure. These are the building blocks of any smart-cities application.