National Challenge Aims to Spark Smarter Cities


The federal government’s Smart Cities Challenge will help expand the innovation economy by making public the huge amounts of data municipalities collect, says Kurtis McBride, co-founder and chief executive officer of Miovision.

McBride is among the technology experts Ottawa consulted when it designed the challenge, a nationwide competition that will see one municipality win a top prize of $50 million.

McBride, along with the University of Waterloo, Communitech, the Canadian Council of Innovators and several technology companies in Waterloo Region all, stressed that open data makes a city smarter.

Municipalities collect huge amounts of data in a wide range of areas, including traffic congestion, water consumption, traffic accidents, construction, restaurant inspections, building permits, garbage collection, pet licensing, noise complaints, population growth, transit ridership, electricity use, crime, fires, property standards, marriages, cycling and flood monitoring.

The thinking behind the push for open data is straightforward. Startups can mine it to find ways to make public services more efficient and transparent. The innovations they create will lead to new software and hardware, new companies and more jobs.


McBride, whose Kitchener-based company develops technology that collects and studies traffic data, is encouraged to see that Infrastructure Canada ranked openness at the top of its list of criteria for the country’s first smart cities competition.

“If we are going to talk about smart cities, let’s make sure we get the technology architecture right. Let’s start with open data to do that,” he said.

Currently, municipalities typically use closed systems. That means there is no third-party access to software and hardware platforms. That forces a city to pay more for software and hardware upgrades, rather than allowing startups to innovate on the platforms to find less-costly and more transparent approaches.

McBride believes the Smart Cities Challenge can help open things up.

“One of the things they are trying to do with this competition is build out a showcase location where technologies that are deployed can be replicated across the country,” he said.


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