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$50 million 'Smart City Challenge' finalists announced at SXSW

In Austin, Texas, US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has just unveiled the seven cities that are still in the running for $50 million in funding that could radically reinvent their streets.

USDOT Smart City Challenge
Both the public and private sectors have expressed interest in helping build the connected city of the future.
US Department of Transportation

It was just over a month ago that the US Department of Transportation said it was "blown away" by the submissions to its Smart City Challenge, a competition pitting cities across the US against each other in pursuit of $50 million in funding to boost their towns' intelligences. Seventy-eight submitted proposals, and US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx just announced the finalists here at the South by Southwest Interactive festival.

Those finalists are:

  • Austin, Texas
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Portland, Oregon
  • San Francisco, California

Interestingly, seven finalists were announced, two more than expected. "We were blown away, quite frankly," said Foxx, saying that these cities are "beginning to think anew about how transportation can once again be the driving force of the American economy." The proposals were so good, apparently, they had no choice but to pick two more.

The competition was specifically open to midsize cities, populations between 250,000 and 850,000. Entries came from as far west as Anchorage, Alaska, and as far east as Providence, Rhode Island, each proposing exactly what they would do with the $50 million award, funding that would do things like add wireless transmitters for vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. Finalists were selected based on how well their proposals match the DOT's goals -- and how likely they look to succeed.

Once implemented, these technologies would allow cars to talk to each other and to the city infrastructure itself, alerting each other of inclement weather conditions, bad traffic and road closures, even enabling law enforcement personnel to selectively disable traffic lights to ease access to emergency situations.

This infographic provides a more detailed look at the 78 submissions the government received.

US Department of Transportation

Each of the finalists will receive $100,000 in funding to help refine and finalize their proposals before the final selection process begins. They'll want to brush up, because the winner will receive $40 million in funding from the federal government, with a further $10 million coming from Vulcan Philanthropy, Paul Allen's investment company. Vulcan in particular is hoping to foster the development of mobility technologies that will reduce emissions.

However, while the final selection is still to come, it seems everyone's a winner. Secretary Fox said that the other 71 cities would also receive assistance from the federal government to help implement their dreams and goals. Probably not $50 million worth, though.