It’s often said college campuses are like small cities, which makes them an ideal partner for municipalities seeking to explore and advance smart city initiatives.
Powered by robust networks, strategic Wi-Fi, data analytics software, sensors and other Internet of Things devices, smart city solutions are delivering unprecedented insights, efficiencies and quality-of-life improvements to residents.
Projects address transportation, facilities, public safety and wayfinding — all services intrinsic to campus life. And colleges can take this vision further, leveraging connected solutions to transform retail, health care, student success and other aspects of campus life.
In many parts of the country, cities and colleges are already intertwined — shaping each other’s character, building cooperative ties, mutually engaged in the effort to achieve long-term health and sustainability. Partnering together in smart city and smart campus initiatives is the logical next step.
Academic Expertise Is a Valuable Aspect of Smart City Research
In fact, colleges are an ideal staging ground for smart city solutions, helping planners move from idea to implementation. A campus-based proof of concept, conducted under the observant eye of government and academic experts, gives planners the freedom to experiment, study and refine IoT solutions before scaling them up and out.
As the test bed center explains on its website, “As a university within a city, we are uniquely positioned to evaluate smart city technology in place. We have faculty expertise in a wide range of disciplines including transportation policy, engineering, urban planning, sustainability, building science, computer science and entrepreneurship.”
(For those attending the EDUCAUSE conference this year, PSU’s William Garrick, a research computing manager and architect, will be presenting a poster session about the role of institutions as test beds for digital city technologies.)
To be sure, numerous institutions are already working, independently and in partnership, to pursue IoT solutions on campus.
The University of Washington’s Smart Grid project — part of a much larger regional effort — placed more than 200 networked meters on campus buildings to capture real-time data on energy consumption. That information will be analyzed to support more proactive conservation and incorporated into a residence hall experiment that will give students insight into their own energy usage.
The University of Michigan is another early adopter of smart technologies. There, Mcity, a 32-acre mock city, is a testing site for self-driving vehicles and other transportation solutions. Like the University of Washington, Mcity depends upon the university’s coordination with government and with business.
With two driverless shuttles in operation, Mcity provides a valuable opportunity to study not only how passengers interact with this new technology, but also how it affects other drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Resulting insights will be critical for any city that seeks to deploy or permit driverless technology in the future. In addition, faculty can bring not only interdisciplinary expertise, but also the rigorous standards of research, testing and analysis so fundamental for academia.
In Wisconsin, the city of Racine was named a winner in the Smart Cities Readiness Challenge, in part because of its close collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Gateway Technical College and other area organizations.
Higher Education Can Take a Cue from Government to Advance IoT
A recent white paper from Cisco and the Center for Digital Education is titled “The Connected Campus Has Arrived” — and while that’s true, much work remains. It’s telling, for example, that in a CDE survey, the largest group of respondents (28 percent) said they didn’t know if IoT was part of their institutions’ strategic plans.
Among respondents who could cite specifics, the largest group (31 percent) is working on smart classroom technologies, while 13 percent are planning IoT projects involving building sensors and just 6 percent are looking at smart parking meters.
These numbers aren’t surprising — this a nascent technology, in many ways in its infancy. But it will be exciting to see universities assume more leadership and initiative to kick off these investments and the conversations that make them happen.
As suggested by the diverse academic expertise PSU faculty bring to their Digital City Testbed Center, smart city projects are complex, involving multiple stakeholders and perspectives.
They also require champions, investment and momentum. Whether such projects originate on the city side or the campus side, both have a stake in successful outcomes and effective partnerships.
This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.