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Jumpstarting a Smart Region
By Jon Walton, Chief Information Officer, County of San Mateo
Jon Walton, Chief Information Officer, County of San Mateo
Unlike neighboring counties such as San Francisco or Santa Clara, San Mateo County’s significant population is not contained within a single, dominant city like San Francisco or San Jose. Rather, the County of San Mateo is comprised of 22 cities, 23 school districts, and large unincorporated areas. It is home to technology-savvy public and major businesses in technology, health care, and finance, yet also includes substantial suburban and rural communities. The absence of a large leading city with deep resources and expertise places County government is in a unique role to be both a technology thought leader and a regional facilitator for broad-based technology investments.
Such countywide initiatives serve the larger community by ensuring innovation does not stop at city borders. This is especially important in commuter-heavy counties like San Mateo, where most people work, shop, and live in multiple different communities throughout the region. Ubiquitous technology access and solutions need to travel with residents and visitors as they move about throughout their days.
In the last few years, San Mateo County has been recognized for our efforts to bridge the digital divide by providing free high-speed internet access to underserved communities. These efforts have evolved to create areas of innovation where we are not just connecting people but also things. This "Internet of Things" (IoT) provides a framework for Smart City initiatives, or in San Mateo County’s case, “Smart Region” initiatives.
A Smart City—or Smart Region—is an area where multiple public and private organizations cooperate to collect, analyze, and actualize real-time information, including using communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, improve government services and citizen welfare, and share information with the public.
"We believe that implementing promising new IoT solutions through a Smart Region approach will enhance government’s ability to best serve the public, allow multiple community partners to innovate solutions for our communal benefit, and grant increased efficiency with taxpayer dollars and public resources"
This month, the County of San Mateo’s Information Services Department (ISD) launched SMC Labs, a series of “Innovation Zones” designed to jumpstart the County’s Smart Region initiative. The first two Innovation Zones, located at the County government complex in Redwood City and East Palo Alto City Hall, will showcase the technology required to support the infrastructure. Subsequent Innovation Zones will cover downtown corridors and eventually expand countywide.
Housing, traffic, mobility, and environmental issues don’t stop at city borders. Regional problems require a borderless approach, and the County of San Mateo is uniquely positioned to address these issues. Our public Wi-Fi network and the deployment of countywide fiber laid the groundwork as the first step towards a Digital San Mateo County. SMC Labs is the next step of this journey and will pilot a number of solutions, including:
• Parking availability for electric vehicles and disabled parking spots
• Irrigation water conservation with smart moisture sensors
• Localized air quality and environmental monitoring
• Real time tracking and monitoring of mobile assets
• Pedestrian and outdoor space utilization
•Optimized and predictive waste collection
SMC Labs is launching with an inaugural set of innovation partners that includes T-Mobile (NB-IoT wireless connectivity), Helium (decentralized machine network), Fybr (end-to-end Smart City platform), RoamBee (asset tracking), Ntropy (resident engagement) and Strategy of Things (innovation strategy and management). SMC Labs will continue to collaborate with additional partners in the upcoming months.
San Mateo County will also partner with cities and other regional government agencies, as well as non-profits and private sector companies, to both highlight Smart Region use cases and build the solutions to demonstrate them. Partners and members of the public will be able to visit SMC Labs to see demonstrations of how a connected region can provide a myriad of public benefits. SMC Labs will showcase a multitude of connectivity technologies, including LoRaWAN, WiFi, NBIoT, and cellular. This will allow us to match use cases to their best solutions and provide the flexibility to leverage any future prevailing technology. Additionally, SMC Labs will test and deploy a community-based decentralized communications network modeled on blockchain infrastructure. The goal will be to use the learning of SMC Labs to create a blueprint for the expanded Innovation Zones in the County.
Building this Smart Region ecosystem is a significant undertaking composed of many layers and moving parts, including the underlying network, security, data, applications, and partners to leverage these applications. However, we believe that implementing promising new IoT solutions through a Smart Region approach will enhance government’s ability to best serve the public, allow multiple community partners to innovate solutions for our communal benefit, and grant increased efficiency with taxpayer dollars and public resources.