Promoting the Rise of Smart Cities

Business schools, businesses, and city governments coordinate their efforts to create urban meccas for digitalization.

Rise of Smart Cities


AS DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY becomes more advanced, urban areas around the world are looking into its potential to transform their communities into “smart cities,” where systems of interconnected sensors streamline operations such as transportation, sanitation, and energy use. Last fall, two business schools announced their participation in comprehensive academic-industry partnerships, whose purpose is to make the smart-city aspirations of their own communities a reality.

A smarter Singapore. Nanyang Technological University has entered into a five-year partnership with National Research Foundation Singapore, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), and the telecommunications company Singtel. Together, this group will dedicate S$42.4 million (about US$31.8 million) to create Singtel Cognitive and Artificial Intelligence Lab for Enterprises (SCALE@NTU). The lab will spearhead research and development efforts in emerging technologies to support Smart Nation Singapore, an initiative to help the country develop its digital infrastructure and economy.

SCALE@NTU will bring together 100 researchers to develop innovations in artificial intelligence, data analytics, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) that address challenges faced by large urban environments. One project will explore the use of smart sensors to analyze data from infrastructure facilities to determine the most cost-efficient maintenance schedules.

Other projects will focus on developing applications for areas such as public safety, transportation, healthcare, manufacturing, and urban development. The lab will train 200 research engineers, alongside graduate and undergraduate students, in the latest emerging digital technologies.

“Public-private partnerships and open innovation pave the way for successful projects that could benefit the Singapore economy and lives of Singaporeans,” says Tan Sze Wee, executive director of the Science and Engineering Research Council at A*STAR. “In this age, where disruptions are emerging rapidly, such joint collaborations are all the more valuable.”

AI in LA. The Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles has joined with other centers at the school to form a consortium that will design, develop, test, and deploy an IoT system that could benefit all communities, including Los Angeles. Other members of the consortium include the USC Institute for Communication Technology Management (CTM), the USC Center for Cyber- Physical Systems and the Internet of Things, and the USC Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC) at the school’s Viterbi School of Engineering.

The Intelligent Internet of Things Integrator (I3) consortium also includes ten participants from business and government. Among them are the City of Los Angeles; Verizon; and Avata Intelligence, a vendor that supplies “artificial-intelligence-as-a-service” to enterprises.

I3 will engage governmental agencies and industry partners to develop community-based IoT networks, which are networks in which groups of independent citizens, companies, and other entities volunteer data from their devices to the smart system. This information then is consolidated into powerful data streams that businesses and municipalities use to improve their decision making and design new tools and services for their communities.

Such data could drive applications that manage energy use and air quality, coordinate transportation, streamline garbage collection, automate parking, or detect leaky pipes. Other applications could perform functions as simple as helping a restaurant increase its foot traffic or as critical as guiding firefighters through burning buildings.

For such a smart system to work, say consortium organizers, it must not only be protected from cybersecurity threats, but also allow individuals and communities to choose how and with whom they share their IoT device data. To that end, users of the I3 system will have the ability to assess trust ratings and evaluate incentives, such as loyalty or rewards programs, to determine with whom they share data.

I3’s three co-founders include Bhaskar Krishnamachari, professor of electrical engineering, systems, and computer science at the Viterbi School; Jerry Power, assistant professor of clinical marketing and executive director of CTM; and Cyrus Shahabi, professor of computer science, electrical engineering and spatial sciences and the director of IMSC. Once the system has been tested, they expect to distribute the core system technology as open-source software that can be adapted by other cities and government agencies.

Marshall School dean James G. Ellis adds that I3 also will be a critical tool for “helping our students, faculty, and com-munity better understand the convergences between businesses, consumers, and governments that will shape cities in this age of data.”