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US commits $160 million to building better cities using sensors and data

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The US government wants to use sensors to make cities a lot more livable. The White House announced this week that $160 million will be spent on creating what it calls "smart cities," cities that are wired up with sensors that can relay data back to local organizations, companies, and governments so that they can identify issues and more quickly respond to changes. The initiative is pretty broad and consists of research grants and spending from numerous federal organizations, but the general goal is to address issues like traffic congestion, crime, and climate change, while improving a city services and economies.

"The United States has the opportunity to be a global leader in [the Internet of Things]."

The White House mentions the Internet of Things a lot while discussing this investment. The reason being that it's getting much easier to put low-cost sensors pretty much anywhere, and in the near future, it should be even simpler to get them wired up and talking together — or, at least, that's the dream. "The United States has the opportunity to be a global leader in this field, and cities represent strong potential test beds for development and deployment of Internet of Things applications," the White House writes. Its goal is to get data from these sensor networks to small companies and nonprofits that'll want to work with the city on making improvements in various areas.

A large chunk of the funding is being funneled through the National Science Foundation, which is putting the clearest focus on sensors and smart cities. Its $35 million is meant to fund initiatives that will focus on health, energy efficiency, building automation, and transportation. About a third of the money is going to help develop services that take advantage of gigabit internet speeds, with a particular focus on healthcare and public safety. A slightly smaller chunk of funding will go to research on integrating computers, networks, and elements of a city, like cars and buildings. Beyond that, $3 million is going to Chicago's Array of Things initiative, which will, among other things, use Wi-Fi sensors to estimate foot traffic.

Funding is also being used to create research communities that will compete and collaborate on these kind of connected tools. IBM is organizing a series of events, and AT&T plans to create testbeds by monitoring things like lighting, traffic management, and parking in 10 cities.

Funding is also going toward emergency response tech and connected vehicles

Another big chunk of the funding, $50 million, will come from the Department of Homeland Security, which is interested in emergency response technologies. It wants to keep improve safety for first responders, while also providing them with more information to act on to improve their efficiency.

The Department of Transportation is also committing $40 million to smart cities funding, naturally with an interest in connected transportation. That includes initiatives to wire New York with traffic signals that can talk to cars, and using connected vehicle technology to address rush hour congestion issues in downtown Tampa.

Additional funding is coming from the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the Census Bureau. Like the programs mentioned above, they're all interested in collecting more data, making data more available, and making greater use of that data to improve what the do.

There's a ton going on here. The programs mentioned above aren't even half of it, although they do represent most of the funding. It should still be enough to make it clear that funding "smart cities" doesn't mean funding one specific thing: it's more like a long series of related funding announcements that show the government's growing interest in a growing field. The Internet of Things has some very obvious uses in monitoring the world — we're already starting to see basic instances like using car sensors to detect potholes — and the US not only sees those possibilities but is looking to embrace them.