Sensing City – IBM, Code for America and Toyota in SF

In San Francisco I had one afternoon to meet a range of people who were in town for Meeting of the Minds.ย  It was a bit rushed and therefore brief meetings, but here’s the highlights:

I met with Colin Harrison who is the inventor of the IBM Smart Cities technical architecture. It was a brief meeting to introduce the concept of the Sensing City. In this regard he sees the opportunity for Christchurch as being able to make sense of the data.

He also made an interesting point that when IBM started the Smart Cities initiative, people assumed that cities wanted efficiencies in their cities.ย  Actually it turned out that they really wanted differentiation on a global scale and some way of attracting smart talent to create economic development.

My next meeting was with Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America. Their mission is to help:

“…governments work better for everyone with the people and the power of the web. […] we’re building a network of cities, citizens, community groups, and startups, all equally committed to reimagining government for the 21st century.”

This is interesting for the Sensing City project as COA is all about data driven decision making, and how people can use data to create better Government.ย  What I found interesting is that the organisation is essentially trying to open the hoses on pools of public data (such as public transit information) whereas with the Sensing City we’re potentially creating a tsunami of data for a city to work with.

One of the more interesting pieces of the conversation was around how to involve artists in the project (linking to the discussion with David at The Guggenheim) and Jennifer recommended talking to GAFFTA about this.ย  The blurb for the organisation is wonderful and states that it:

brings together the best creative coders, data artists, designers, and makers to create experiments that build social consciousness through digital culture. GAFFTA is the nationโ€™s leading organization dedicated to furthering the use and advancement of creative technology for social good and artistic advancement. In this capacity, we maintain relationships with the worldโ€™s top academic researchers, innovative corporations, visionary artists, and civic leaders. By continually engaging and connecting this diverse community with challenges and opportunities, we extract forward-thinking technological solutions with proven capacity to create positive change.

In a Christchurch context it’s like the creatives from Burning Man sat down with the Gap Filler team for a hackathon.ย  I’ll be talking to GAFFTA more about the Sensing City over the coming weeks.

The final meeting of the day was with the wonderful Bill Reinert,ย  who is not well known (like Elon Musk/Tesla) but should be. Bill is the guy who works on the long term advanced technology projects for Toyota USA, and is essentially responsible for creating the Prius. We’ve previously talked about the implications of a Sensing City for transportation, and this conversation continued.ย  Bill thought that is was likely that a carpet of sensors across a city could dramatically advance the adoption of autonomous cars (driverless cars).ย  While he could not see immediately how Toyota could capitalise on the Sensing City, we did discuss someย  research that the company is working on in Japan, and how it might find a home in Christchurch.ย  That part of the conversation is commercially sensitive so I’m not going to mention it here, but it could be promising for the city.

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