While the latest smart gizmo tends to grab headlines, industry experts are urging urban leaders to focus more on smart city challenges with their citizens, rather than the technology, said attendees at the VERGE 16 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. where leaders in the smart cities space gathered.
A key sentiment that emerged from the conference was that leaders in government and industry need to stay focused on the larger smart city picture and not get caught up in the latest gee-whiz technology.
Specifically, there needs to be greater focus on meshing emerging tech with the current political and economic systems that affect citizens.
“The technology solutions are there,” said Kirain Jain, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Oakland. “What we’re really looking at are governance issues.”
The proliferation of new smart city platforms and equipment is driven partly by the increasing ease at which they are integrated into city infrastructure.
However, government leaders are being urged to develop technology strategies around citizens’ needs first rather than prioritizing the technology and figuring out whether public benefits later.
“We just put out an RFP last week that had the words ‘user-centric design,'” said Jain.
The shift from technology-centric strategies to user-centric mindsets also requires a realistic assessment of which populations of the city are actually benefiting from these innovations.
Specifically, local leaders must recognize that many smart city innovations are providing benefits to the better off segments of society. Meanwhile, those citizens struggling with poverty may not see much benefit at all from technology that makes the morning commute more pleasant.
“A lot of our focus has been on moving the top 20% of the market,” said Kimberly Lewis, senior vice president of the U.S. Green Building Council. “We thought the trickle-down effects would really begin to affect low- and moderate-income communities.”
She says key challenges are being exacerbated by assumptions that any smart city technological advancement automatically creates mass impact on the entire city population. However, it’s becoming clear that smart city technology is not a magic wand that can be waved to eliminate persistent challenges faced by poorer citizens.
For example the community solar concept is beginning to gain traction in various markets, depending on the resources of those who wish to invest. However, this raises the issue of how to increase accessibility to financing for those communities who lack the resources to develop solar projects.
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If you envision the Chicago of the future, complete with sprawling skyscrapers, delivery drones, and automated cars cruising down brightly-lit streets, you probably aren’t imagining the same city as some of Chicago’s government officials. In recently-proposed legislation, the city of Chicago may well ban automated vehicles entirely.
Aldermen Ed Burke and Anthony Beale proposed the ordinance in a city council meeting this past Friday. In a report from the Chicago Tribune, the penalty for operating a driverless car without a human behind the wheel is a $500 fine. This ordinance would apply to every street within Chicago’s city limits.
“We do not want the streets of Chicago to be used as an experiment that will no doubt come with its share of risks, especially for pedestrians,” Burke said in a press release from the city’s Committee on Finance. “No technology is one-hundred percent safe.”
This statement is in stark contrast to the data currently available on autonomous and self-driving vehicles which indicate that they are, even in their infancy, as safe or safer than human drivers. Google, one of the pioneers in self-driving technology, has operated autonomous vehicles in multiple states with over 1.9 million miles of distance covered since 2009. During that time, its vehicles have only been found at fault in a single accident where the car side-swiped a bus to avoid debris which were blocking its path in the road.
While Google’s self-driving program has been in other accidents, including one being hit by a drunk driver recently in Chandler, AZ. This is one of over a dozen cases where human error either on the part of a human operator in the Google vehicle or in another vehicle were found at fault.
There have been reports of accidents involving Tesla’s Autopilot system, an in-beta self-driving system available in many Tesla vehicles. This system is not currently advertised or intended to serve as an autonomous technology. Instead, it depends on a human driver being present, mindful, and ready to take the wheel at any moment. There was a fatality reported that involved a Tesla this year, in which a brightly-lit sky masked the white side of a semi trailer that was blocking the road. Neither the driver nor the car was able to detect its presence in time to stop.
If this legislation passes, Chicago will be among the first cities in the United States to ban autonomous vehicles outright. As more cities take this stand, a future where you could send your car across the country or even city-to-city becomes exceedingly more difficult to imagine.
The news isn’t all bad for autonomous car fans. Pittsburgh has become the testing ground for Uber’s autonomous vehicle project, which it hopes will one day enable autonomous vehicles to drive to, pick up, and drop off passengers without the need of a human driver behind the wheel. While there certainly is a place in our visions for the future of an autonomous roadway filled with fast-moving cars without steering wheels, we’re not going to get there without convincing a few naysayers along the way.
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People may be wondering what is leading automotive giant Ford to acquire ride-sharing shuttle service Chariot.
The app-based service is well suited to Ford’s mobility goals. It already uses Ford Transit Connect vans to shuttle people around the city and accelerates the company’s vision of a ride-sharing platform in major cities by 2021.
Chariot shuttles commuters from popular locations in San Francisco, and costs less than a taxi ride. Ford intends to expand Chariot’s service into “at least five additional markets in the next 18 months.”
Shuttle service is nothing new, a lot of tourists use a similar service when visiting New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. The difference with Chariot is real-time route monitoring and instant access, allowing people to hop into the van midway through the route.
Taking twelve commuters and stuffing them in a van is also a tactic Facebook, Google, and other Silicon Valley companies use to get their own staff to work on time. Unions in San Francisco have protested multiple times over shuttle service, due to long hours and low pay.Ford also loses two wheels with GoBike
Ford also announced it is bringing GoBike, the company’s bike-sharing service, to the San Francisco Bay Area. It plans to have 7,000 bikes in SF by the end of 2018. Users will also be able to rent their bike on the FordPass platform, launching next year.
A few months ago, Ford didn’t seem to have any major plans for ride-sharing or autonomous cars. Now, it has a firm date for its first autonomous vehicle launch, 2021. It also has said it will launch a ride-sharing platform in most major cities by that time, of which we assume Chariot and GoBike will be a part.
It might not be close to Uber’s market penetration, but Ford has confirmed in the past month it is going to fight tooth and nail against the tech companies in the self-driving and ride-sharing business.
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