Smart and Connected Communities Have Tightly Integrated Physical Networks

SpringWise Flying Firstaid Kit

The National Science Foundation announced on the morning of September 14th that they are spearheading a White House initiative to “Cultivate Smart and Connected Communities.” The endeavour is supposed to be a sort of Manhattan Project resulting in research, prototypes that are a model for the world. The next step in smart and connected communities. I have to say that I’m glad to see nearly $40 million dollars being earmarked for research into this most critical piece of our social organisation.

The list of grant commitments is pretty impressive:

  • Approximately $12 million for new projects funded through US Ignite to support research leading to prototype applications that leverage gigabit and advanced networking connectivity and impact multiple national priority areas, including healthcare, energy, transportation, manufacturing, education and learning, and public safety. The awards will also build “living labs” that provide the support needed to scale up these prototype applications across cities and regions, leading toward an ecosystem of smart and connected communities.
  • Approximately $10 million in new Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) research projects with a focus on Smart and Connected Communities and the Internet of Things.
  • More than $3 million to support the creation of a new instrument–the Array of Things–in Chicago that will be the first research infrastructure to allow researchers to rapidly deploy sensors, embedded systems, computing and communications systems at scale in an urban environment.
  • Nearly $2.5 million to enhance the design and operation of efficient, secure and Critical, Resilient, Interdependent Infrastructure Systems and Processes (CRISP) that provide essential goods and services in the context of cities and communities.
  • $2.5 million to enable NSF-funded researchers to participate in the National Institute of Standards and Technology Global Cities Team Challenge.
  • Approximately $2 million in new Smart and Connected Health research projects to accelerate the development of next-generation health care solutions to enable patient-centered care and wellness that extend to the home, workplace, and community.
  • $375,000 to establish a Research Coordination Network to stimulate novel international research on how to integrate data from physical sensors, social media and other sources.
  • Nearly $4 million to support academic and industry partnerships through the Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity program that facilitate integration of breakthrough research discoveries into human-centered service systems, with an emphasis on emerging technologies that can contribute to smart cities/communities.

I think the one I’m most impressed with is the “Smart and Connected Health research projects.” My experience as a patient, one who from time to time needed a rapid and capable medical response, leads me to believe that there is a lot of good that can come from this particular branch of research.

At one point I was writing about this sort of thing quite a bit. Just having medical records instantly available for a patient can make a huge difference in a critical situation. Rapid semi-autonomous transport to and from trauma centers which are spread across a city could reduce ambulance travel times to an inconsequential moment over the course of a treatment.

The blond continued his transmission, ” Going to need rush-rush for high-pri Zero Adam Adam Oscar. Please provide clearance and remote pilot from our current location to a pad at Providence. Mike Four Two, over.”

Helena felt an amazing frustration, but almost as soon as she recognized this sensation she realized that she was getting at least some control back.

“I … can …” she managed to get out.

“It’s going to be okay, Helena. You don’t need to talk. I’m Gregory and this is Bruce.” The blond said while kneeling down once more beside her head. “We’re going to help you. We’re going to take good care of you. Don’t worry. You don’t need to talk if it seems difficult, just nod your head. Have you ever had a seizure before?”

She managed to shake her head.

“We’re going to transport you to Providence Medical Center. The VTOL is going to winch all three of us aboard once Bruce here gets you secured in the medtrans pod. I’m pinching your right finger, can you feel that?”

My hope is that somewhere in this collection of grants is money to seed a city with patient transportation drones that can be dispatched to an incident quickly and without fear of traffic of other delays.

The “Array of Things” has some serious Science Fiction mojo. They’re going to be looking at ways to rapidly deploy sensors in a city; I think they should be discovering methods for deploying cheap, long running sensors that endure. Either way the idea that telemetry can be extracted from city centers is super important for answering a number of questions.

So, and I should say that there’s nothing in this package that I don’t like, those are my favorites. However, I don’t see some things that I think need to be investigated or developed as to reach the stated goal of the program.

Yes, the emphasis on the Internet of Things is very cool, but my observation here is that this feels a lot like basic computer networking felt back in the early 90’s. We’re fascinated with new shiny things. Just and observation, regardless of the level of embedded systems and fancy routing juxtaposed in our urban areas smart and connected communities have tightly tntegrated physical networks. In fact, urban environments are an emergent property of these sorts of networks.

Hovenring, Eindhoven

So I’m left looking on, from the vantage of a science fiction author who loves to write these sorts of futures, wondering where the research dollars are for sustainable transportation networks? Who is going to be developing a prototype PRT system or next generation community power generation? The more I think about it, the long this laundry list gets. The longer the list becomes, the smaller that $40 million dollars are relative to the immense problems facing future urban centers.

Boyant Wind Turbines, Big Hero 6

Realize I’m not being critical of the NSF or of the White House. They’re both operating on a budget and under the scrutiny of a penny-pinching Congress. I am, however, offering the opinion that we’re sorely underfunding our own futures.


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