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KC's smart city 'Goldilocks' project bounds ahead

Matt Hamblen | April 27, 2015
The city is expected to invest US$3.7 million and Cisco and partners another US$12 million over the next 10 years, according to the approved city ordinance and other documents.

Cisco chose to work with Kansas City because it is "in the Goldilocks zone," Blackburn said, explaining that it is "not too big and not too small" an urban center and has "lots of momentum with tech and tech companies." The project's size will help Cisco learn how it can scale up to provide larger cities with smart city innovations.

Blackburn also said Cisco is sensitive to ways that video sensors might be seen as invasive public surveillance. "For any privacy issues, we'll comply with state and federal regulations and won't give access to software developers to anything they shouldn't have access to," he said.

Part of the city's ordinance includes creation of a Living Lab for Internet of Things innovations where developers can work together in an open office environment. Living Lab is a joint proposal by Cisco and Think Big partners, which both operate in a recently renovated historic building along the streetcar line.

Herb Sih, co-founder of Think Big, said in an interview that Cisco's unified networking approach to the KC project makes the most sense. "This is really about building a platform for multiple vendors and carriers and verticals with a single interoperable technology," he said. "That's the key to the Internet of Things. Keeping things interoperable is where the rubber meets the road."

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research and a longtime Cisco observer, said the networking provider has taken an architectural, foundational approach to connecting the Internet of Things, which Cisco has dubbed the Internet of Everything.

"You can call what Cisco does a platform or a foundation, but that makes a lot of sense for IoT," Kerravala said. "Cisco has done more work in this space than any other vendor."

City governments around the globe have wrestled with finding a way to create smart connected cities without having to authorize multiple networks by multiple vendors that operate independently.

In Barcelona, Spain, smart city services were set up in recent years to help relieve parking and traffic congestion, and a big concern was how to solve a problem without creating multiple networks. "IoT is network centric and the network is what matters," he said.

Kerravala said that Barcelona's experience could offer a warning of sorts to Kansas City about recognizing the privacy concerns of individuals. At one point, Barcelona was hoping to use the smartphones of each person in the urban area as a kind of smart city sensor. For example, using their GPS and other location technologies, automated systems could determine when a big crowd showed up at a bus stop, so that more buses could be dispatched to that stop.

"For that kind of thing, you need citizen opt-in, to deal with the feelings of being monitored," Kerravala said. "If a car drives around a block three times, that can be detected as maybe somebody looking for a parking space or perhaps something else."


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