Twenty-one city leaders find entrepreneurial solutions in Rio

8 June 2012

Molly Webb, Head of Smart Technologies, The Climate Group writes about the winners of the Living Labs Global Awards.

Urban issues are paramount today; over half the world’s inhabitants are city-dwellers.

Every choice made about service delivery of energy, transport, waste and water – along with every citizen decision about how to live our lives – is adding up slowly to a collective impact that has long-term consequences.

Decisions we take in the short term at the city level have huge implications. And so it is in cities where we will succeed or fail in tackling climate change. 

Choices to replace infrastructure or technologies with new, more efficient alternatives, or to find new ways of delivering the same services in a lower-carbon way – such as car sharing or energy-generating surfaces – are being made daily in some 557,000 local authorities all over the world.

We can point to at least 21 city leaders who recognized that they were ready to make these choices in a more innovative way: in October of last year they each announced an urban challenge and that, as part of the Living Labs Global Award process, they were open for business to find a solution.

Then last month, these cities converged in Rio de Janerio to award winning entrepreneurs and businesses the chance to trial a solution in their city

From networked lighting in San Francisco that can be used only when needed, to open government in South Africa that will help deliver economic and environmental outcomes, the challenges set by cities were as diverse as the places they represent.

But they had one thing in common; the cities were all ready to embark on a process of re-thinking how they meet urban challenges, using better data and connectivity.

Some recurring themes were mobility and transport, open government and participatory civic processes, better data for decision-making, and health care.

Whether or not the challenges were explicitly about sustainability (like Glasgow’s, who were looking for low carbon and smart grid solutions for environmental and economic benefits), The Climate Group judged each and every entry based on its ability to deliver innovation in the most climate-friendly way.  

But many of the challenges, if tackled, would directly also save energy. Mexico City announced it needed to alleviate commuter pain and make transport more efficient, as citizens navigate 1,400 buses, 300 trolley buses and 100,000 taxis in their city.

Lavasa, a relatively new city in India, wanted to re-think private transport altogether. And more indirectly, Rio wanted a ‘Knowledge Square’ to help engage citizens in urban social and technological reform, a process that would allow citizens to raise environmental issues alongside other urban issues.

The winners – and the finalists – were up to the task.

Having read 500+ entries, I was amazed by the global marketplace I saw unfolding with every showcased solution. Among many more solutions, companies tackled socially networked transport, smart grids, smarter waste use, road maintenance, power-generating floors, all manner of intelligent transportation and even parking. Check out more here.

Some highlights from the winners and runners up:

  • Skybus won Lavasa’s challenge to re-think private transport. The Skybus SaaS platform allocates mobile requests to vehicle routes, which “adapt dynamically to take every passenger directly from origin to destination, quickly, comfortably and without transfers”
  • Endesa won Glasgow’s challenge specifically with their Smart City Malaga project, which integrates 17,000 smart meters with charging points, LED streetlights and a control center 
  • Clever Devices, the winner in Mexico City, manages intelligent transport systems for city managers to drive down emissions, and fuel consumption
  • Paradox Engineering will provide San Francisco with networked streetlamps as a starting point for a full smart city infrastructure 
  • ConnecThings swept four of the city categories. NFC tags (enabling the QR codes on your mobile phone) allow citizens to interact with their surroundings in real time, and enable tourists or citizens to better engage with their city.

Runners-up I noted who could also have big immediate or potential energy savings: WhipCar, POWERLeap, Philips Connected (Public) lighting, LiquidSpace, Oracle’s Green City Management solution, and BellaDati.

As Paradox Engineering notes in their presentation, ‘Cities can talk’ – through new approaches to networking machines and ‘things’ like buildings or waste bins in the city.  

But through the award process, they can also talk about what challenges they are facing and find in the Living Labs Global Award process a transparent way to source solutions for those.  

The Climate Group, Living Labs Global and CityMart will be partnering to make the learning from the award process more transparent. Together with cities, in a Metropolis initiative entitled ‘Agile Cities’, we will co-design guidance for ‘pre-procurement’, to help cities looking to lead in innovation and seeking global market intelligence.

As we prepare for Rio+20, explore The Clean Revolution.

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