Kansas City, Mo.’s second-ever chief innovation officer was a 24-year U.S. Army veteran when he came to the municipal sector in early 2016. But in just more than two years, Bob Bennett — an officer with Army deployments from Africa to Iraq — has quickly made a name for himself as not just a smart cities pioneer, but also a member of the vanguard.
Bennett first tipped plans for public digital kiosks in December 2015 when his appointment was announced. Since then, he’s worked to make Kansas City’s downtown the “54 smartest blocks in the United States,” where its smart streetcar line dodges obstacles while it collects data; where traffic lights time themselves to keep vehicles moving; where 178 intelligent streetlights adjust automatically; and where those kiosks enable hyperlocal searchability while avoiding the Internet’s darkest corners.
An RFP issued in March 2018 asks respondents to explain how they’d scale the technology in this roughly two-mile area to the rest of the city.
In March, the city had its first test case, around the Big 12 Tournament, for 5,000 connected Avis rental vehicles that are part of its Mobility Lab. The data they ingest as they educate motorists with GPS, traffic and parking information, was due to be shared at the Smart Cities Connect conference — moved to Kansas City for the first time this year.
Bennett is quick to praise Mayor Sly James, City Manager Troy Schulte and the City Council for their vision, but a comment he made in early 2017 exemplifies his own optimism and unwavering commitment to the task at hand.
“We will be the smartest city on Earth within five years,” Bennett said then, as the city unveiled its online data portal during a workshop for high-tech planners.
“The beauty of being able to articulate that as a goal is, it gets my local business leaders fired up. It generates excitement among the startup community to want to contribute, to want to be a part of the solution and to do something that’s never been done before. We are not interested in being the next Seattle,” Bennett said in an interview — meaning no offense to Seattle.
“I want to be Kansas City,” he added. “And I want Kansas City to just flippin’ rock.”