From capturing residential water usage in real time to assessing air quality or warning residents about high-water areas, Houston’s smart city vision is looking to innovative technology to improve residents’ quality of life, drive economic growth, and build a more inclusive society.
“All of the projects that we have are ultimately either going to improve customer experience or improve our operations,” said Jesse Bounds, director of the Mayor’s Office of Innovation.
Houston embraced a smart city vision after an alliance with Microsoft to make the city its first U.S.“space” for its “Internet of Things” approach to technology.
The Houston-Microsoft alliance led to the creation of a Smart City Advisory Council, announced earlier this month by Mayor Sylvester Turner. The council will develop a roadmap of strategies for smart city efforts going forward.
“The age of technology is here and we cannot afford to sit idle,” Turner said. “We must leap, not stroll into the future. The advisory council will set the stage for Houston to become the Smart City of the world.”
Bounds believes citywide efforts to adopt emerging technologies and data-driven practices have made Houston a smart city pioneer.
“We were one of the first cities in the country to install air quality monitors and one of the first cities in the country to go to smart water meters, which can tell you usage in real time,” Bounds said.
Bounds and Director of Information Technology Services Lisa Kent are leading Houston’s smart city vision project. They met with city departments to see how they are embracing smart city technology and data-driven practices.
“All of our smart city technologies were happening in silos,” Bounds said. “City departments were doing really cool stuff, but only they knew about it. If it had a customer impact, then customers knew about it too.
“We started to identify the landscape of opportunities in the city,” Bounds said. “Microsoft helped us have conversations with departments and see what they were currently doing and where there were opportunities to add technology in order to improve what they were doing.”
Current projects listed on the city’s Smart City webpagerange from transportation projects that will capture traffic data and other information in real time to public safety projects, such as firefighting drones that will use thermal imaging to identify, track, and asses fire hazards.
Although the city has already begun implementing projects, risks along identified discovery areas are still being determined by the Smart City Advisory Council.
“The goal with the advisory council is to develop a roadmap toward an economically sustainable and well-coordinated strategy and align it to our 100 Resilient Cities plan,” Bounds said.
In August, Houston was selected to join the 100 Resilient Cities network. The nonprofit provides guidance and resources to cities in their quest to build resilience to economic, social and physical challenges. Through sponsorship from Shell, the city received funding to hire a chief resilience officer, Marissa Aho, who is now leading the city’s resilient strategy development.
Bounds believes there is value in using smart city technology.
“Imagine having the ability to warn residents about high-water areas in real time during inclement weather,” Bounds said of efforts to introduce sensors in areas with frequent flooding.
“We’ve got this growing momentum,” Bounds said. “Departments are eager to innovate.”
“I hope that we continue to deploy projects that are impactful and highly visible — to do be able to do more with less,” he said.
To learn more about Houston’s Smart City Vision, log on to http://houstontx.gov/smartcity/.