Talking with Bob Bennett, KCMO’s chief innovation officer.
Kansas City, Missouri, came very, very close this year to winning a $50 million award that would have funded a set of Smart City technology upgrades. It was one of just seven communities that were selected as finalists in a national competition, but ultimately lost to Columbus, Ohio.
That hasn’t stopped Kansas City, though. It’s moving forward with a version of the project it proposed to the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of the Smart City Challenge.
According to Bob Bennett, the city’s chief innovation officer, Kansas City is waiting to hear if it will be granted federal money to fund Smart City upgrades along the Prospect Avenue corridor. A decision should be coming any day now.
The money would pay for a series of smart kiosks and other technology on Prospect’s high-speed bus route, similar to what’s in place along the downtown streetcar line.
The project also could help the city address one of its toughest problems: a lack of high-speed internet connectivity in poorer neighborhoods.
Many students on the city’s East Side are given laptop or tablet computers they can take home from school, but they still have a hard time completing homework assignments because they don’t have internet access at home.
If the Prospect Avenue project becomes a reality, homes within five to six blocks of the route could tap into a free Wi-Fi system. It’s similar to the free Wi-Fi offered along the downtown streetcar line. Only the signal would go farther on Prospect because there wouldn’t be as many massive buildings in the way of the signal, said Bennett, who previously was an operations executive and strategic planner for the U.S. Army.
He’s excited about Smart City technology’s potential to improve city operations. Just think about what it could mean for water systems, for example.
Right now, most communities repair their pipes on a calendar basis—“It’s been six years since we did Sixth Street, so it’s their turn this year.” But new technology could make it possible for municipalities to find where leaks and breaks are most common and use their resources where they’re needed most, Bennett said. So if Sixth Street is still in good shape, repair crews could target some other section.
Innovation Partnership Program
Bennett also oversees Kansas City’s Innovation Partnership Program (IPP). Under IPP, local startups allow city departments to try out their solutions for free for a few months. The city recently selected seven companies for a testing period that will run through February.
Those companies include Big Bang, Integrated Roadways, Pomerol Partners, Reality Technology, SORA, SpiderOak and Stratex Planning.
At a minimum, the IPP startups get the opportunity to see how their product performs for a large organization and get feedback they can use to improve. It also doesn’t hurt to have a large municipal government on your client roster.
If the solution performs well, the city may sign up as a paying customer. That’s what happened with RFP365, the developer of software that streamlines the request-for-proposal process.
Another round of the IPP program is planned to run next spring through summer. For more information, visit www.ippkc.org.