Columbus launches projects to become the United States’ first “smart city”

by Sophie Yang, ’19

As winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, Columbus received a $50 million grant in 2016 to innovate in transportation and become the world’s first “smart” city.

When applying for the grant, Columbus went up against 77 other cities including San Francisco, Denver and Pittsburgh. Ultimately, a total of $500 million in donations from local businesses like American Electric Power toward the smart city initiative gave Columbus an edge in winning the grant.

In the long-term, Columbus is seeking to improve safety and increase mobility while becoming an environmentally friendly, carbon-neutral community with electric vehicles.

In one way it’s working toward its goals, Columbus is placing an emphasis on “fair” transportation in its urban sectors, looking at whether all people have equal access to services like bus lines.

Some other projects under the smart city initiative include:

Creating a connected vehicle environment in which vehicles can sense each other’s location and speed, being able to briefly override the driver’s control and avoid collisions

Promoting electric, driverless vehicles

Developing technology for truck platooning, in which groups of trucks are equipped with sensors and communicate with one another to drive in a condensed line

Developing a multimodal trip planning system with a way to provide common payment

Creating smart mobility hubs in Columbus’s commercial and residential districts

Providing pregnant women assistance with transportation to prenatal checkups, ensuring safer births and healthier children

Managing event parking downtown to decrease traffic

Helping vehicles “communicate” with roads and streetlights

Providing aid to truck drivers by collecting data on the height of bridges to determine if the truck can pass and better communicating where highway rest areas are located for long-distance drives

Since most of these projects are data-driven, Columbus’s first step is to create the Smart Columbus Operating System (SCOS) to gather data about traffic, weather, parking and street closures, then share it with tech companies and across city departments. Columbus opened up the opportunity to create this system to information technology companies in the area, with submissions having closed on Feb. 13.

According to Jordan Davis, the director of Smart Columbus, after creating this platform, Columbus could potentially share its data with companies like Lyft and Uber and gain theirs in return to further improve its citywide projects.

“It’s truly the heartbeat of everything that will make us smart in this sector [and] it’s the top priority of our program,” Davis told GCN last October.

Fitting with its goal to improve the quality of life in Columbus through transportation, the leaders of Smart City Columbus also hope to include information on medical care locations and food pantries.

Outside of the smart city project, Columbus has also implemented the bike-share system CoGo with rental areas in the downtown area and at The Ohio State University.

As the United States’ first “smart city,” the leaders of Smart Columbus hope to set an example for other cities to come.

The release of Smart Columbus Operating System’s “beta version” is planned for this summer to a small number of users.