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A Smart Future for Columbus

SMART COLUMBUS: How Smart Technologies Can Elevate a Community

Brent Thomas

January 28, 2019

In today’s day and age, there are many products and services claiming to be smart. But what is it that actually makes something “smart”?


More often than not, it’s data. Data can be used to observe and investigate past and present trends, allowing us to predict future happenings and adapt accordingly. With it, we can develop smart technologies to help resolve real issues we face every day.


The better the data, the smarter the technology. The smarter the technology, the smarter the city.


Amsterdam has been working on becoming a smart city for almost 10 years now. As the biggest city in the Netherlands, Amsterdam is a true leader in the race to becoming smart and they have made some of the most impactful changes when it comes to smart technology. The largest garbage incineration waste-to-energy system in the world is found here. In order to improve sustainability, AEB Amsterdam, the company running the system, came up with a pilot project involving citizens of the community separating all of their trash into four different streams (bio-waste, plastic, glass, and paper) using assorted colors of bags. This system allowed garbage trucks to pick up both trash and recyclables at the same time, for the first time, resulting in the reduction of waste and pollution created from traditional pickup routes.


Another city striving to be more sustainable is San Francisco. Recently, the city teamed up with a smart trash can startup from Denmark, called Nordsense, that created a sensor-lined trash can. These trash cans help keep streets cleaner by alerting local public services before cans reach maximum capacity. With the introduction of these, San Francisco experienced an 80% decrease in overflowing trash cans. Additionally, the amount of street cleaning requests and illegal dropping both dropped drastically. Another city in the Netherlands, Utrecht, also introduced smart garbage cans and have seen similar results. On top of that, to improve parking conditions, Utrecht has wireless sensors that detect when a car is parked illegally, issuing parking tickets automatically. This saves the city and tax payer’s money and helps ensure parking spots will be available when needed.


In order to improve safety, Eidhoven, Netherlands, has been working on a variety of projects where they try to utilize collaboration between government, businesses, and institutions of higher education. One of these projects involves the implementation of technology like Wi-Fi connected lamp posts, video cameras, and microphones on one its busiest streets. The technology gives the city the ability to detect signs of potential aggressive behavior and alert police before any behavior becomes dangerous or illegal.


In Woensdrecht, Netherlands, there is a 6-mile bike path that leads to a neighboring city that is considered dangerous to ride on, especially in the dark winter months. To make the ride safer for its citizens, the city installed 65 smart street lights that have the ability to turn off and on automatically based on the timing of an approaching or passing bike. On top of creating a safer environment, these lights last longer than traditional incandescent lights and need less electricity, making them more sustainable.


Over the past year or so, electric scooters have been popping up all over. In many cities, the scooters are causing frustration for pedestrians because of user’s bad park jobs and misuse. A new solution to this problem may be found through augmented reality. A geolocation company, called Fantasmo, is using “Camera Positioning Standard” to help resolve the issue. The thought was that if scooter startups had the ability to know exactly where scooters were being left on city streets, they could accurately enforce parking rules and keep sidewalks clear. By knowing the exact location, riders would be forced to move their scooter to a correct parking spot before officially ending their ride. With the help of CPS, Fantasmo can match the surroundings of the scooter with the company’s map data by using a digital camera and artificial intelligence to see the world around it. This gives the company the ability to find the precise position of the scooter and allows them to know if it is being ridden legally on the street or illegally on the sidewalk.


Cities all over the world are taking steps to becoming smarter, but what is Columbus doing?


Columbus understands in order to become “smart,” they must start with data. Smart Columbus is a smart city initiative which was jumpstarted by the $50 million prize the city won from the first-ever Smart City Challenge. With the money they were awarded, the city tasked itself with “becoming smart.”


The first step of this long journey is realizing the power of data using their data system, the Smart Columbus Operating System (SCOS).


SCOS is a web-based platform designed to serve as both the heart of the Smart Columbus technology system and the foundation for all smart city projects to come. It will help the city measure the progress and performance of all their smart initiatives, inspire creative thinkers to design the services of the future, and transform the city’s outcomes in education, employment, and healthcare.


The data system will give us the opportunity to fuel technology deployments like:

    • Connected Electric Autonomous Vehicles
    • Connected Vehicle Environment
    • A Multimodal Trip Planning App
    • Smart Mobility Hubs for Bus Riders
    • Event Parking Management System


In order to obtain better understanding of travel conditions and to quickly identify and resolves any issues, Smart Columbus is currently working on developing a resource capable of gathering, storing, and analyzing both past and present data regarding the transportation network. They are also pursuing ways to help parking services better meet the parking demand at peak hours, mitigate violation causes, and develop plans to make parking more accessible in the future.


One goal of Smart Columbus is to “foster sustainability.” If Columbus decided to implement a trash collection system like Amsterdam, the process of collection would be sped up drastically and the city would be doing its part to help keep the environment clean at the same time. Using trash cans with sensors in them would keep the streets clean and would ultimately help with their long-term goal of fostering sustainability.


Another Smart Columbus goal is to “improve safety.” Introducing technology like video cameras and microphones on High Street and other busy streets around the city could definitely help improve overall safety of the city if they were utilized to alert police services when aggressive or illegal behavior was detected. Adding lights to the Olentangy trail similar to the ones in Woensdrecht would make walking and cycling at night much safer too.


Like San Francisco, Columbus has a scooter problem. If AR was utilized with the scooters ridden around the city, the overall scooter experience for both riders and non-riders would improve. Additionally, the streets and sidewalks would be safer, making the transportation network and the city of Columbus safer.


In terms of addressing parking issues, Columbus is already taking action. In December of 2018, a smart parking provider called ParkMobile announced that it would launch a new app called ParkColumbus. This app will give civilians the option to pay for parking via mobile device and to park in mobile payment-only parking zones. The app will be available on January 22nd, 2019 and approximately 600 parking meters will have stickers on them that provide a zone number that users will type into their mobile device to pay for parking. The app will send alerts when the session is about to expire so the user can extend their time directly from the app and the app will also offer features like resident guest passes that will offer 24-hour parking rates when visiting residents in certain areas. The city plans to make mobile payment available at all meters and kiosks around the city as soon as possible, This is just the kind of solution that Columbus needed to help alleviate traffic congestion and improve the parking experience for everyone involved.



Smart cities are clean, healthy and livable. They excel in connectivity and computing, and they are environmentally sustainable. This is only the beginning of a bright and exciting future for the city of Columbus. The city’s Mayor, Andy Ginther, says that he wants to be the “Silicon Valley of smart transportation.” Columbus should expect gradual changes, but with the right data, and the right implementation of the data, it’s a real possibility.


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