Obama pledges $160M to develop 'Smart Cities' apps

The Obama administration earmarks $160 million to help entrepreneurs, civic leaders and nonprofits work together to develop apps to tackle issues like traffic congestion and crime.

The Obama administration announced Monday it will invest more than $160 million in a new "Smart Cities" Initiative to build apps aimed at helping improve the quality of life in local communities.

President Obama announces a series of initiatives to push for more diversity in the tech sector at the first ever White House Demo Day. CNET/Marguerite Reardon screen shot

Among the initiative's goals are helping local communities tackle key challenge such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services. As part of the initiative, the National Science Foundation will make more than $35 million in new grants and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will invest more than $10 million to help build a research infrastructure to develop applications and technology that "smart cities" can use.

The White House also announced nearly $70 million in new spending and over $45 million in proposed investments by the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and the Environmental Protection Agency to come up with new solutions in safety, energy, climate preparedness, transportation, health and more. More than 20 cities will participate in major new multi-city collaborations in which city leaders will work closely with universities and industry to come up with solutions to challenges.

The news comes as the White House is hosting a Smart Cities Forum, which coincides with the Smart Cities conference and tradeshow happening in Washington, DC this week.

The new initiative is part of the Obama administration's continuing effort to expand and improve the country's broadband infrastructure to help communities create jobs, provide educational opportunities for citizens, and simply connect individuals to the Internet. President Barack Obama has supported local municipalities building their own ultra high-speed networks using fiber optics and has also encouraged companies like Google to build networks that compete with traditional broadband providers.

The latest initiative is meant to help cities that have already deployed ultra high-speed broadband networks work with entrepreneurs, local leaders and others to create applications that can leverage these networks to improve the quality of life in their communities.

"Every community is different, with different needs and different approaches," he said in a statement announcing the new initiative. "But communities that are making the most progress on these issues have some things in common. They don't look for a single silver bullet; instead they bring together local government and nonprofits and businesses and teachers and parents around a shared goal."

As part of the initiative, US Ignite, a public-private partnership of more than 25 cities, companies and non-profits created by the White House in 2012, announced it has received a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build what it calls a "living lab" of test beds in 15 US communities with gigabit networks to develop smart city applications. US Ignite said it will use the grant to create a "smart city app store" for interoperable and interconnected applications that communities can use.

The National Science Foundation is also giving the University of Chicago $3 million to support its "Array of Things" project in Chicago. This network of 500 Internet-connected sensors deployed throughout Chicago will continuously measure the physical environment at the city block level. The data collected will be used for researching "smart city" applications.

Other grants will be used to help research applications for self-driving cars and ways to reduce traffic congestion. One such award, to Kansas State University, will fund research on novel approaches to integrate distributed power sources, such as rooftop solar panels and storage batteries, with the existing electric power grid.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) also said it plans to invest $5 million in Smart Cities this year. It has plans to launch a new round of the Global City Teams Challenge, which was developed as part of the US Ignite initiative to help cities develop "smart city" technologies, such as Internet-connected electrical meters and traffic signals. The agency will challenge participating cities to set goals and evaluate standards of "smart city" technologies that measurably improve residents' quality of life.

The private sector is stepping up as well. IBM said it will provide technology experts to mentor and educate participants designing and developing apps for the Global City Teams Challenge. AT&T announced it will support test beds across the US and internationally to test things like smart metering, lighting, traffic management, parking, and public safety. AT&T also said it will host a "Smart Cities" hackathon with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in January 2016.

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