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Boston U NSF Grant Will Turn Boston into Smart City

Boston University is receiving $800,000 from the National Science Foundation to research, prototype, and evaluate new kinds of "smart city" services for the city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. At the heart of the project is "Smart-City Cloud-Based Open Platform and Ecosystem" (SCOPE), a "multisided marketplace" for smart-city services that will live on an open cloud infrastructure. The overall project is intended to help people get to city and state resources, change behaviors collectively and support innovations in transportation, healthcare, energy distribution and emergency response.

The grant is going to the university's Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, which has pulled together an interdisciplinary group to develop SCOPE. Researchers come from Boston U's departments of computer science, electrical and computer engineering, earth and environment, strategy and innovation, and city planning and urban affairs as well as the Office of Technology Development. The group will also work with industry partners such as Schneider Electric and analyst firm IDC. Government participants will include the state's technology agency and the city of Boston, among others.

"Today's cities are increasingly being challenged — to respond to diverse needs of their citizens, to prepare for major environmental changes, to improve urban quality of life and to foster economic development," said Azer Bestavros, director of the institute and SCOPE's principal investigator. "So-called smart cities are closing these gaps through the use of technology to connect people with resources, to guide changes in collective behavior and to foster innovation and economic growth."

Among the broad initiatives being tackled are these:

  • Transportation and mobility services to reduce traffic congestion, save time and fuel and reduce pollution;
  • Energy and environmental services to monitor and estimate greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Public safety and security services for dispatch of police and traffic details, snow removal, coordinated public works scheduling and municipal repairs;
  • Tools to analyze data and coordinate crowd-sourced input for managing city assets; and
  • Incentive programs and community report cards to promote adoption of new services and report on results and sustainability.

The services will live on Massachusetts Open Cloud, a new public cloud project created through collaboration among local universities, industry and state agencies. It's visualized as a marketplace where contributors — public and private — can make their services available free or for pay and where multiple entities can work together to create new assets.

SCOPE will take advantage of existing Boston U projects, including the use of sensor networking for traffic light control applications, fusing data from multiple sources for route planning and public works scheduling and environmental monitoring of carbon emissions in urban settings.

"The SCOPE project will provide invaluable lessons on how to deploy a cloud-based smart city system that will help inform investment direction, policy decisions and the development of new services," noted Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, smart city research director at IDC. "The potential for replication of the SCOPE model has significant ramifications for all cities and states."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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