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DOT Smart City Challenge Aims to Kick Transportation Tech into High Gear

The U.S. Department of Transportation is offering $40 million in funding for data-driven transportation projects.

There are a lot of what-ifs in the world of automotive technology development these days: What if cars could drive themselves? What if they could talk to traffic signals and other infrastructure? What if they ran on electricity or hydrogen fuel cells instead of gasoline?

Some of those answers are bubbling up to the surface, through experiments and the beginnings of implementation. But the U.S. Department of Transportation wants to give the process a little kick in the form of $40 million.

The department announced a “Smart City Challenge” Monday, Dec. 7, asking leaders in mid-sized cities — those poised to account for a good chunk of America’s population growth in the next three decades — to submit ideas for data-driven solutions that make urban transportation systems “safer, easier and more reliable,” according to a press release.

“Critical system improvements that increase safety, reduce carbon emissions and enhance mobility are especially encouraged for review,” the press release reads.

Vulcan, a private Seattle-based company known for investing in technology and start-ups, is chipping in another $10 million on top of the DOT’s $40 million to whichever municipality wins the Smart City Challenge. That money will go toward infrastructure to support electric vehicles.

While the DOT doesn’t give specific examples of what it would like to see, its leadership has made the direction of its interests clear in the past. It’s already begun the process of putting regulations in place that would require all new vehicles to have the capability to connect not only to each other, but infrastructure as well. That kind of technology could, in theory, prevent cars from turning left in front of each other — one example of an accident the department hopes to see dramatically reduced.

The department also helped launch three pilot projects for connected vehicle technology this year, including equipping fleet vehicles in New York City and connecting pedestrians with vehicles in Tampa.

“The best lab we have for integrating the newest technology is where we need it most — America's cities,” DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx wrote in a Monday blog post.

The department is holding a webcast on Tuesday, Dec. 8, to give more details on the challenge. The webcast can be accessed here.

Applications for the grant money are due Feb. 4.


Smart Cities
Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.
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