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Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs offers new platform for Smart City Challenge winner

Sidewalk's Flow, which will be given to the winning city at no cost, uses data and analytics to better analyze traffic in an effort to reduce congestion and transit inequality.

USDOT Smart City Challenge
The more data we can collect, the better off our transportation systems will be.
US Department of Transportation

Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet, is hard at work on a new platform -- called Flow -- that will use data to create a better transportation system. Sidewalk is partnering with the Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge to offer Flow to the winning city at no cost, after developing this system alongside all seven finalists.

During a conference call, Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff tried to relate it to concrete examples, since that might not make a whole bunch of sense. In essence, Flow will be a platform that ingests a wealth of data from a variety of sources -- sensors, cameras, third-party apps or even a city's own data -- and uses analytics to let cities map assets against demands. Sidewalk claims all the data will be anonymized.

Flow could theoretically let cities watch parking situations unfold in real time. It could uncover sources of congestion or discover how underserved parts of a city could receive better transportation options without, again, adding to congestion.

Smart City Challenge Applicant Map - Final Version

77 cities submitted Smart City Challenge proposals in an effort to claim up to $50 million in funding, with the goal of developing a 21st-century transportation system.

US Department of Transportation

Sidewalk will also distribute on-street kiosks as part of Flow. These kiosks, destined for underserved neighborhoods (sensing a trend here?), will offer free Wi-Fi and transit information for folks that might not have a smartphone or a serious data plan. The goal is to help them make more informed decisions about transportation. Oh, and the sensors I mentioned earlier will be included in these kiosks, as well.

All seven Smart City Challenge finalists -- Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco -- will help Sidewalk develop Flow. Whichever city wins the challenge will receive Flow's entire system for free. The winner will be announced in June.