San Diego Organizes Smart City Hackathon to Achieve Climate Plan

An unusual coalition is coming together in San Diego to create innovative ways to support a climate action plan the city adopted to satisfy state mandates for reducing greenhouse gases.

The San Diego City Council voted unanimously to approve the plan in December. To meet California’s tough requirements, the plan sets five broad goals that are intended to cut carbon gas emissions in San Diego by 50 percent (from 1990 levels) over the next 20 years and beyond.

Guidance from the state Supreme Court in a ruling last year led the City of San Diego to make its plan legally binding. To ensure that San Diego stays on track with its goals, city staff and consultants will prepare monitoring reports to measure the city’s progress against each goal. If the city falters, environmental groups and even the state attorney general could sue to force San Diego’s elected officials to comply with their own plan.

“The plan the city adopted could be game-changing,” said Sujit Dey, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who heads the Center for Wireless Communications at UC San Diego. “The climate action plan sets the goals, but it doesn’t spell out how to meet those goals. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to innovate.”

By using a “Smart City” model that integrates multiple information and communication technologies, Dey and others saw an opportunity to use innovative sensor networks and software applications to monitor San Diego’s environmental quality of life.

“The idea is to crowd-source solutions to some of the city’s problems,” said Daniel Obodovski, a San Diego consultant and Internet of Things evangelist who organized an information session today for what has become known as the San Diego Smart City Hackathon. More than 250 programmers, designers, engineers, and activists already have registered for the event, which is being organized by the City of San Diego, the Center for Wireless Communications, and Obodovski’s firm, the Silent Intelligence.

“What we are doing is creating a kind of living laboratory in the City of San Diego,” Dey said. “Anyone can participate.”

Dey said he also anticipates that federal funding would be available to support the development of innovative “smart city” technologies. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed as much as $40 million in funding to enable one city to serve as a model of what it means to be a “Smart City” and become the country’s first city to fully integrate innovative technologies—self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors—into their transportation network.

“It’s not all planned, this journey forward,” Dey said. “But I think we will be able to generate some money, to secure funding. My goal is that we’ll collect enough money to seed selected projects, and to provide mentoring. We’d like to make sure that each team gets an academic mentor and an industry mentor over the next six months as we try to meld their ideas.”

The five goals laid out in the city’s climate action plan call for promoting climate resiliency; constructing more energy and water-efficient buildings; developing more public transit alternatives, including bicycle and walking paths; implementing clean and renewable energy; and improving recycling efforts to attain zero waste.

Realizing these goals could involve strategies such as boosting the number of trees in San Diego by 35 percent over the next 20 years, recycling or composting 90 percent of all solid waste by 2035, and reducing car trips in key transportation corridors by 50 percent by 2035.

Tonight’s information session is intended to explain the hackathon’s objectives and application process, and to review the types of software and data that will be available.

Obodovski also will moderate a panel discussion to identify opportunities for innovation, and how tech startups can participate. The panelists include Kiva Algood, a Qualcomm vice president of business development for smart cities and industrial IoT; Kristin Tillquist, director of state government affairs and innovation policy for San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; and Katie Rast, director of FabLab San Diego.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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