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$60 million committed to Smart Cities Initiative

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29 September 2016



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Array of Things is designed as a “fitness tracker” for the city of Chicago, collecting new streams of data on Chicago’s environment, infrastructure, and activity. Credit: Rob Mitchum/Urban Center for Computation and Data

From autonomous vehicles to flash flood alert systems, technology transforms how people lead their daily lives and how local cities and communities function.

Last September, the Administration launched the National Smart Cities Initiative to help communities tackle local challenges and improve city and municipality services. Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) — the lead federal agency in the effort — announced more than $60 million in Smart Cities-related grants for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, with additional investments planned for FY 2017. This new funding adds to the nearly $40 million the agency awarded last year to support researchers working to design, adapt and manage the smart and connected communities of the future.

“The effective integration of technology and data into decision making and physical infrastructure has the ability to transform society, allowing local cities and communities to overcome physical, social, economic, and infrastructural challenges,” said Jim Kurose, assistant director of NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate. “NSF-supported research in this area will help cultivate more livable, workable, sustainable and connected communities.”

The grants bring academic researchers from a range of disciplines together with community stakeholders and civic leaders. Through research that integrates digital tools and engineering solutions into the physical world, these partners will work to solve important challenges in health and wellness, energy efficiency, building automation, infrastructure and public safety.

“New understanding and innovations gained from NSF-funded research in Smart and Connected Communities will help measure and shape the pulse of communities’ physical and social infrastructures to improve the quality and efficiency of our lives in America’s cities, now and for our future,” said Grace Wang, acting assistant director of NSF for Engineering.

NSF has long supported the fundamental research that underlies smart and connected communities. This research has included advanced networking and connectivity, sensing, real-time data analytics, control, automation and decision-making. The agency has also been instrumental in transitioning these technologies to widespread use. For example, since 2012, the US Ignite initiative seeded the development of numerous new “gigabit application prototypes,” capable of processing large amounts of information in real-time, which has improved regional radar systems, autonomous vehicle management, and more.

Severe storms and rapidly accumulating rain recently contributed to historic flooding that caused extreme damage to the main street of Ellicott City, located not far from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) campus. Credit: Photo collections from the Office of the Maryland Governor, managed by the Maryland State Archives. [CC BY 2.0]


Today’s new NSF investments in support of the Smart Cities initiative include:

  • $24.5 million planned investment in Smart and Connected Communities for FY 2017, including an award solicitation exclusively focused on fundamental research and research capacity-building that will transform our nation’s cities and communities for the future. This program will develop a robust, multidisciplinary, diverse research workforce capable of addressing the challenges that our cities and communities face, with a focus on collaboration and partnership between researchers and community stakeholders to improve the quality of life for all.
  • $10 million in new awards to develop and scale next-generation internet applications and technologies through the US Ignite program. These awards provide citizens with access to gigabit-enabled networks and services, bringing data and analytics to decision-makers in real time. The focus of the research ranges from the development of advanced networking technology to the creation of application and service prototypes that leverage advanced technology.
  • $8.5 million in new awards for high-risk, high-reward research through Smart and Connected Communities. These Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) projects, combined with supplemental funding to existing NSF-funded grants, represent NSF’s initial efforts to grow a Smart and Connected Communities research community and pilot new research approaches. This includes $300,000 to a multidisciplinary team of researchers developing a new network architecture to expand internet access and engagement, and support community-building on Native American reservations.
  • $7 million in new Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity projects that translate breakthrough discoveries into emerging technologies through academic-industry collaborations. Such technologies can transform smart service systems, such as smart hazard notification systems, smart buildings and sensor networks to improve transportation efficiency.
  • $4 million in new Cyber-Physical Systems awards focused on Smart and Connected Communities. These awards support research that integrates computing, networking and physical systems — for example, in self-driving cars and smart buildings. Collectively, these awards are helping to establish the foundation for Smart Cities and the Internet of Things.
  • $2 million in new “Spokes” that extend the Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs. These awards will use data science to improve the smart electric grid, keep bridges safer, grow better crops through the use of drone technology, and allow students to conduct citizen science on air pollution.
  • $1.5 million in new Smart and Connected Health research awards with a focus on Smart and Connected Communities. These awards will support the development of next-generation health-care solutions that leverage sensor technology, information and machine learning technology, decision support systems, modeling of behavioral and cognitive processes, and more. This includes $300,000 to a multidisciplinary team of researchers to integrate community and clinical data to model the evolution of influenza in communities, supplementing prior investment by the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
  • $1.4 million in new Big Data research focused on Smart and Connected Communities. These awards will drive innovation in data analytics and data-driven decision making to fuel the growth and development of the communities of the future.
  • $1 million for researchers to participate in the 2016 NIST Global City Teams Challenge, supporting high-risk, high-reward research on the effective integration of networked computing systems and physical systems to meet community challenges. This includes $250,000 for real-time monitoring and detection of flash floods in several Maryland cities.
  • $1 million in new research and capacity-building awards that support lifelong learning, which is critical to cities and communities of the future. The awards will leverage networks and technology to foster lifelong learning in multiple formal and informal settings, enabling students to solve problems that arise within their communities.

Through the programs listed above and the projects they support, computer and information scientists, engineers, and social, behavioral, and economic scientists will collaborate with industries, non-profits, local governments and anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries and hospitals. The effort will continue to nurture and grow a research community focused on smart and connected communities, and will help train and prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers to advance solutions that improve tomorrow’s cities and communities.



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the National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal US agency created to promote the progress of science.
the National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal US agency created to promote the progress of science.





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