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Entrepreneurs will develop smart city technology for KC in ‘living lab’

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Mayor Sly James’ office announced a new partnership between Kansas City, Missouri, and Cisco’s Smart+Connected Communities program this week under the banner Connected and Innovative Kansas City. The partnership is being touted as a major step toward Kansas City becoming the nation’s most entrepreneurial city by Mayor James in a press release from his office.

Local and nationally recruited entrepreneurs will be brought in to develop technology to make smart city developments work in downtown Kansas City. The Cisco program’s framework involves the addition of various tech-based improvements to the city, like interactive, computerized kiosks, high definition security cameras and energy-efficient street lights.

As entrepreneurs work, Kansas City will become a “living lab,” said Ashley Hand, the mayor’s chief innovation officer. Think Big Partners, a KC-based business accelerator, will facilitate this lab, which will allow entrepreneurs to test their creations on a large scale.

“We are creating this huge platform for entrepreneurs to come in and really use Kansas City as a test bed,” Hand said. “We are enhancing our position as the most entrepreneurial city by really creating a place where people can test out an idea in a much more cost-effective way… by using a real city as the platform.”

Think Big Managing Partner Herb Sih said that the exact details about how the lab will function have not yet been released, but is sure that entrepreneurs will be excited to participate. They will be able to test their ideas without searching for a test user. For example, entrepreneurs developing an app typically have to search for their first test customers, but the entrepreneurs in the living lab will already have their first customer identified: the city of Kansas City.

“This is an opportunity to build, develop and get a real-life user test case,” he said. “If you can build it, we’ll test it.”

Sih indicated that there is no end to problems that can be solved using this model. He said that initial development will be focused on the elements listed above, like the kiosks and efficient street lights, and the list of problems to solve is quickly growing.

Think Big plans to work with accelerators, incubators and commercial businesses to find talents and existing tech to solve Kansas City issues.

While the logistics of how the lab will function are not yet clear, Hand and Sih both noted the importance of aligning project development with ongoing streetcar construction. Hand said that the city wants to take advantage of already opened streets for installing streetlights and underground sensors.

Hand said that some aspects of the Cisco program, like the interactive kiosks, have existing models in other cities, but that she would like to see changes made to make those models work effectively for Kansas City.

She said KC kiosks could have functions for accessing emergency services and reporting city service outages, but could also work well to help users make the most of their time downtown. Hand imagines kiosks that could point users to fun events and restaurant specials alongside public transportation directions to the locations.

“You could learn which bus stop to walk to from the streetcar, or that there’s a B-cycle station one block over,” she said.

Both Hand and Sih said that more information about Kansas City as a living lab will be made available soon, but that this announcement alone is something to celebrate.

Hand is excited to see how entrepreneurs use the Smart+Connect Communities framework to improve Kansas City.

“It’s a big deal right now,” she said, “but it’ll be even bigger when it’s here in the ground.”

According to the mayor’s office, decisions about additional partners and projects will be made by the end of June.

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