Autonomous Vehicles, New Mobility & the Built Environment Internet of Everything

The $50 Million Smart City Challenge

Everything will be connected in the city of the future.
Courtesy of US DOT

Will the U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge do for urban mobility what Google did for gigabit broadband? That is the $50M question as the U.S. Department of Transportation recently launched a contest that is challenging cities and counties (with populations of 250 to 850k) to find ways to use technology to improve mobility and livability in urban areas.

Similar to the FCC Rural Broadband Pilot program, applicants will submit their vision about how to make their cities “smart” by February 4th, 2016. From that first round, five semi-finalists will be awarded $100k to submit a final proposal for the $50M award; $10M of which will be coming from Vulcan (Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s organization) with the remainder from the FCC.

The technical priorities of the US DOTs $50M challenge.
Courtesy of US DOT

The twelve technology elements the DOT are looking for cities to integrate are:

  • Urban Automation
  • Connected Vehicles
  • Intelligent, Sensor-Based Infrastructure
  • User-Focused Mobility Services and Choices
  • Urban Analytics
  • Urban Delivery and Logistics
  • Strategic Business Models & Partnering
  • Smart Grid, Roadway, Electrification & EVs
  • Connected, Involved Citizens
  • Architecture and Standards
  • Low-Cost, Efficient, Secure & Resilient ICT
  • Smart Land Use

Connectivity is the common denominator in the above elements and is one reason Communications Service Providers should care about this contest.

New technology offers the promise of improving accessibility for millions of people.
Courtesy of US DOT.

The demand for improving mobility goes beyond reducing congestion and environmental impacts. A common theme of the DOT’s 12/18/15 webinar is the importance of making transportation accessible. The DOT suggests that we are an aging society (73M of us will be over 65 in 15 years) and one where 20% of the population has some disability and 25% of the population live below the poverty line.

The US DOTs vision of how technology can improve mobility and land-use.
Courtesy of US DOT

Strictly speaking, cities are not the only entities that may apply as other governmental agencies, such as counties or transit agencies may apply. Private or non-profits can’t apply as a primary applicant, but community-wide participation would probably be beneficial to an application. On the aforementioned webinar, DOT officials suggested that even the population criteria and coverage requirement (15% of an entity’s population) was more of a guideline and, as such, they encouraged everyone to apply and to make their case.

For the DOT, this grassroots approach to finding ways to improve mobility is a different way of doing things. As they stated on 12/18, “At a high level, the US DOT is changing the way of thinking and setting policies to ensure that we have a world-class transportation system in the future.”

Like the aforementioned Google broadband contest (where 1,000+ cities applied to be a Google fiber city), the most important thing that comes out of this effort may be the process. That is, only one city will be the “winner”, but the process will provide valuable ideas and may lead to improvements in many cities because of the expedited process and the forcing function of getting communities to work together to develop a proposal.

As importantly, this contest is recognition by the DOT of the close linkage between land-use and transportation.

To learn more, watch the video below or click on the following link to see links to past and future webinars:

and details about the contest are found here:


Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on independent telcos’ efforts to offer video to their customers. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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