What to expect at NIST’s Global Cities Challenge


The Internet of Things, and the ways cities can leverage this emerging technology, is evolving at a rapid pace. Some cities have embraced it fully, while others are trying to keep up. Sokwoo Rhee, a presidential innovation fellow who is working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, hopes to close that gap during an upcoming conference where innovators will meet with global city planners in order to bring everyone up to speed.

Rhee on Friday laid out the plans for NIST’s Global Cities Challenge, which will be held later this month at the agency’s Gaithersburg, Maryland, headquarters. The challenge will focus on how cities can accelerate their use of cyber-physical systems in order to improve efficiency and security, create new business opportunities and enhance the quality of life.

“With the issue of smart cities, the technology and deployment is very much fragmented,” Rhee said during a webinar Friday, adding that a lot of projects in cities across the world have been “one-off projects.”


Rhee said cities planning to attend the challenge may have anything from an idea they don’t know how to execute to a project that’s hit a road block and needs outside help in order to be completed. The challenge will serve as a chance for cities and innovators to come together to provide widespread solutions.

“Some cities may say ‘I have one issue,’ some cities may say ‘I have multiple issues,’ some cities may say ‘I have many issues,'” Rhee said. “Participants may not understand where it all fits, but by combining these different bits and pieces, they can come up with full solution to address the problems identified by cities and planners.”

The core portion of the challenge will revolve around “action clusters,” which will pair city planners with innovators who can solve their problems after hearing a two-to-three-minute “elevator pitch” about their smart city plans.

With additional help from U.S. Ignite, an independent nonprofit aimed at fostering next-generation Internet applications, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a slew of private companies, the challenge will help frame NIST’s forthcoming Smart Cities and IoT Global Connectivity Fabric frameworks.

The Global Cities Challenge is the first of three events aimed at smart city development, with a “tech jam” coming in Winter 2015 and a Global City Teams Festival in June 2015. The latter will be a chance for cities to show off the projects they come up with during the Global Cities Challenge.


Rhee made it a point to call the timeline “very ambitious” and understands that cities will have obstacles even after they leave the challenge.

“I would like to make sure we all look at this as an ongoing process,” Rhee said. “At the end of the day, you are not alone. All of these cities are working very hard to make citizens life easier, make cities affordable and make smart cities more widely spread.”

You can find out more information about the Global Cities Challenge here.

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