Study: U.S. Smart City Initiatives Fall Short

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The next wave of connected and intelligent technologies—sensors, 5G, and artificial intelligence (AI)—promises to improve the energy efficiency of urban systems. AI, in particular, can help cities save money, address infrastructure needs, and reduce emissions, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington, D.C. think tank for science and technology policy.

But COVID is starving smart cities projects of much-needed capital, says ITIF. Cities face significant challenges in researching, developing, demonstrating, and deploying AI and other smart technologies. A new report released Monday by ITIF shows that without greater federal involvement in R&D and better national coordination of demonstration and deployment activities, cities will fail to maximize the benefits AI offers. 

“Some federal programs invest in AI or smart cities, but there are significant funding gaps in demonstration and deployment, and that’s because there is no cross-cutting vision or strategy. Increasing federal R&D funding and providing better coordination can drive adoption of AI technologies on a larger scale than cities can achieve working independently,” says Colin Cunliff, a senior policy analyst at ITIF and co-author of the report.  

The report details potential applications of AI for smart cities in transportation, the electrical grid, buildings, and city operations that can ultimately make cities more efficient and help them reduce their environmental footprint, notes the think tank. To overcome the obstacles of adopting AI, the report shows how the United States can draw lessons from how other countries have tackled these challenges. For instance, Singapore has developed a “digital twin” of the island that the government, businesses, and researchers can use as a test bed to run simulations.

“Smart city investment has been compromised during the COVID-19 pandemic because of revenue shortfalls. Even the most capable cities are struggling to overcome some of the obstacles they face in smart city development,” says Ashley Johnson, a policy analyst at ITIF and co-author of the report. “Increasing federal investment and coordination to jumpstart smart cities would address several challenges at once. Smart cities offer an important opportunity to address infrastructure needs, reduce emissions, and save money to ease strained state and local budgets.”

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