Upon hearing the phrase “smart city,” a foggy image of the Jetsons probably comes to mind.
Smart cities are still an unknown concept to most urbanites, who don’t realize that changes are currently underway to make the cities they live in smarter. On March 7th, representatives from cities across Canada came together for the second annual SAP Smart Cities Forum, where the future of urban life was explored.
As the director of technology innovation for the City of Kitchener, Dan Murray puts it; the definition of a smart city changes depending on which city you enter, as each city has its own priorities and its own obstacles.
However, for Canadian cities that are looking to become smart cities, one central theme seems to be generally agreed upon, and that is one of efficiency and communication.
While some cities like Mississauga are tackling these concepts by modernizing and improving their transportation portals, others, such as the City of Toronto, are bridging communication gaps by making its data available to its citizens.
Here’s a look at how three Canadian cities are trying to become smart cities.
Toronto: Open Data, Public Transit, IoT
The city of Toronto has been extremely active in making the vast amounts of data its collects available to the public. The city’s open data initiatives have paved the way for all kinds of data-driven projects to come to fruition.
Some of the initiatives currently underway include the Data Catalogue on the city’s website, the public data manipulator Wellbeing Toronto, geographic data, and several data-driven apps.
According to the director of enterprise and solutions at the City of Toronto, Fazal Husain, the data obtained through the city’s open data initiatives plays a critical role in helping city workers gain a better understanding the obstacles that stand in the way of Toronto becoming a smart city.
“If the city doesn’t know the problem of day-to-day life that you’re experiencing, I don’t know if we can address it,” says Husain.
He goes on to describe the city’s Cycling App as a prime example of how data initiatives help the city run more efficiently. The Cycling App is an initiative spearheaded by Brisk Synergies for the City of Toronto which allows cyclists to record their cycling routes. This data will be made available to the city for reference when developing cycling network plans.
After a run-in with a pedestrian who raved about the app, Husain was convinced about its potential to improve circumstances for all Toronto cyclists and serve as a model for other city services.
In addition, Toronto is focusing heavily on public transit and IoT as a way to solve the city’s ongoing congestion problems. Going forward, the city is considering an IoT solution to improve the flow of traffic.
Husain concluded by saying that a smart city isn’t an end goal, but a process. “I don’t think a smart city is an end state. It will continue to be developed because technology is not standing still,” says Husain.
Mississauga: Wi-Fi Blanket, Public transit, public outreach, IoT
The City of Mississauga has been extremely active in the smart city movement through public transit initiatives, Wi-Fi enhancement and other forms of public engagement.
Shawn Slack, the city’s director of information technology and chief information officer spoke extensively about Mississauga’s investment in improving public transit across its jurisdiction as a response to one of the GTA’s most pressing concerns.
“So, a lot of our smart city type technologies are investing in advanced traffic management, smart bus technology, so that we can get a better handle around how traffic is moving and then respond when there’s either an accident, or during rush hour, or in making sure we have coordination of services and traffic control,” says Slack.
Slack also emphasized the importance of bringing Wi-Fi to as many corridors of the city as possible. In addition helping to bridge the digital divide, Slack describes that such a robust Wi-Fi network is also invaluable to the consolidation of communication across the city.
He uses the example of communicating with citizens. As City Hall becomes more technologically capable internally, it has the ability to communicate with citizens about relevant announcements and services through web portals, such as video messages. Without reliable internet access, citizens in certain parts of the jurisdiction may not have access to these important messages.
“We want to make sure that if we’re going to tailor communication, people have the capacity to get internet in that area,” says Slack.
In order to sustain this model, the City has partnered with multiple parties across the region, including the Region of Peel, Brampton and Caledon as well as several hospitals and universities. These partnerships ensure that services like this one remain affordable.
“It’s an economy of scale. So we have a private fibre network within the region of Peel. And it’s a partnership between the city of Mississauga, Brampton, town of Caledon and the Region of Peel, the hospitals and the post-secondary schools. We’ve built enough fibre within the region to go around the planet once. If the city were to build that on its own, it wouldn’t be as affordable and the benefits wouldn’t be as effective,” continues Slack.
Kitchener: Outreach, incubators, eServices, public transit
While the City of Kitchener doesn’t see a value in blanketing its jurisdiction with Wi-Fi, city leadership has developed a four-part plan to work towards becoming a smart city.
The director of technology, innovation and e-services at the City of Kitchener, Dan Murray, says that there isn’t one definitive standard for what a smart city will be. It all depends on the individual city’s circumstances.
Kitchener leadership placed a heightened emphasis on the community aspect of ‘smart city,’ by spending 18 months developing the Digital Kitchener strategy.
“We tried to leverage technology to improve the lives of the citizens in Kitchener. That’s kind of how we approached this. We approached a technology strategy with a strong community focus to it,” says Murray.
Kitchener’s strategy calls for the to be city, connected, innovative, on demand, inclusive, and to prioritize the needs that the citizens want to see fulfilled.
The city will aim to install an IoT network and fibre optic capability in areas where it would improve civic life, and implement on-demand e-services to reach citizens on the digital platforms they’re active in.
Moreover, the City of Kitchener is a fast-growing innovation hub in Canada, which is largely incorporated into the city’s smart city ambitions.
Communitech, for example, is the largest technology incubator in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and one of the most well-known across Canada. This incubator and others will play a significant role in becoming more digitally-enabled.
“Every city also has their own realities and their own factors that are at play. I think what we try and do is look for various ideas among municipalities but you have to try and adapt them for what makes sense for yourself. And that’s really what we were trying to do with digital Kitchener, was gain an understanding of the things that are of interest to the citizens of Kitchener.”
Smart cities, by the city
When it comes to smart cities, every region has its own idea of how to get there. They all agree on one thing however; a smart city will be in a constant state of development.
As technology evolves and changes, so to will its uses in civic life. Even more importantly, as cities evolve and change, so to will their requirements of the technology they use.
Between cross-platform Wi-Fi, consolidated transportation and data-driven initiatives, it’s fair to say that citizens will begin to feel the effects of these changes extremely soon. Perhaps the ever-elusive smart city isn’t so much about achieving an end goal, but rather, a way for technology to truly change the civic experience.
Back when Google unveiled its AI-powered Assistant last year, the company said that it would roll out support for regional languages. Assistant picked up the ability to converse in Hindi, and Google is now training the voice assistant to understand Canadian French.
Based on the screenshot, Google is working on making the French Canadian language model of Assistant available both on Allo and phones. That’s in contrast to Assistant’s capabilities in Hindi, which are limited to Google’s messaging app. Google’s decision to roll out Assistant to all phones running Marshmallow and above will ensure that its AI service is installed on hundreds of millions of handsets around the world, and the logical extension of that is to introduce support for local languages.
There’s no further information as to when Assistant will officially add support for Canadian French, but with the test program underway, we should know more in the coming months.
Startups might not be the buzziest word anymore, but Toronto’s tech community is still vibrant, and more so now than ever before. That was clear when meet-up and networking group TechToronto held a celebratory best-of event at city hall in honour of its third birthday.
On Monday night, TechToronto featured Mike Katchen as one of its speakers. Katchen founded WealthSimple; you may have seen the company’s ad starring Tony Revolori (or Lobby Boy in the Grand Budapest Hotel) during the Super Bowl.
The commercial serves to illustrate how much Toronto’s tech scene has evolved, even within the past five years. And many think it’s still growing. “The belief is you can build a big business in Toronto now,” says TechToronto founder Alex Norman.
He, along with others, say that five or 10 years ago, small Toronto startups were bought out by bigger American companies and many Canadian founders and employees would head to work in places such as Silicon Valley and New York City.
But people are coming back and now have the experience to build big companies here, notes Top Hat‘s chief marketing officer Nick Stein.
He, along with Norman, spent time south of the border before moving home. “And that’s kind of allowing for a talent pool in the city to grow that wasn’t really there before,” Stein continues.
Top Hat, which creates cloud-based teaching platforms for university students and professors, recently raised $22.5 million (U.S.) from Union Square Ventures, one of the biggest venture capital firms in the world – it was an early investor in Twitter, Etsy and Kickstarter.
“I think it’s a really a sign that people are starting to look to Toronto as a place where really world class companies can emerge,” says Stein of USV’s interest in Toronto.
In USV’s portfolio of companies, Toronto is the third most well-represented city behind San Francisco and New York. (USV also put money into local startups such as Figure1 and Wattpad.)
Toronto startups also have more support from corporations, such as RBC, as well as access to incubators and accelerators including MaRS, Ryerson University’s DMZ and now, TechStars, an American company that just announced it was opening here.
OneEleven, which helps commercialize startups, opened a 50,000 square foot space on Front Street and companies like Top Hat are growing too – Stein says it’s moving into a bigger office at Avenue and Bloor and has plans to double its current team of 200.
The DMZ has also increased, in both size and clout, in the seven years since it started. “In the first year of opening up, we were essentially bringing on anyone and everyone that would come to our door,” he says.
“Fast forward seven years later, and now we’re looking at a space where we only accept one in every 10 people that come to the DMZ,” he continues.
Not only is the cost of living in Toronto cheaper than tech hubs like San Francisco and New York, notes TechTO’s Alex Norman, but the quality of life and amenities here are better or equal to those cities.
He also think the city’s diversity is a key asset to tech here – Snobar agrees. Toronto has a talent pool from its local universities as well as from the University of Waterloo just down the 401.
Stein, however, says that as more and more companies get bigger here, it’s harder and harder to find talent. Though that can be a good thing for new graduates looking to get into tech.
And as someone who’s repatriated, he thinks Toronto is finally coming into its own, which works in the tech industry’s favour.
“I think now people have really embraced the identity of just being from Toronto and being proud of it. It seems like sort of a soft way at looking at it, but I think that it actually does make a difference that people have developed this pride for Toronto in and of itself.” he says.
“And I think part of that translates to what’s happening in the tech community.”
Tesla has sued former employee Sterling Anderson, who acted as Director of its Autopilot Programs for just over a year, for breach of contract. The suit accuses Anderson of having tried to recruit away employees from Tesla, with the intent of starting his own autonomous driving company, and of also taking Tesla proprietary confidential information to support this goal.
Tesla alleges in its complaint that Anderson and recently departed head of Google’s self-driving project Chris Urmson (also named as a defendant) were going to use the information and personnel taken from Tesla to begin their own self-driving car company, dubbed Aurora, with the aim of charting a similar path to companies including Cruise Automation and Otto, both of which went on to enjoy lucrative exits.
In the suit, Tesla also alleges that Anderson downloaded “hundreds of gigabytes” of proprietary data from his work computer to a personal storage device, and that he then manually hacked the timestamps on files to hide evidence of his acquisition of the information. He also wiped the iPhone issued by Tesla, the suit says, in order to erase evidence of his attempts to poach fellow employees. These attempts were met with only limited success, however, as only two employees apparently ever jumped ship to the new venture.
Tesla is seeking damages for its losses as a result of its breaches suffered due to Anderson’s actions, as well as punitive damages for what it terms “malicious” acts on Anderson’s behalf. It’s also looking for injunctions against Aurora’s technologies pending Tesla’s vetting for use of its proprietary tech.
The suit was filed Thursday morning at the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara and seeks a jury trial to resolve the matter.
Tesla declined to provide comment when contacted.
Aurora provided the following statement to TechCrunch via email when asked for more information:
Tesla’s meritless lawsuit reveals both a startling paranoia and an unhealthy fear of competition. This abuse of the legal system is a malicious attempt to stifle a competitor and destroy personal reputations. Aurora looks forward to disproving these false allegations in court and to building a successful self-driving business.
Nokia’s got a nice, adorable name picked out for its new voice assistant. MIKA stands for “Multi-purpose Intuitive Knowledge Assistant,” letting engineers and telecom operators access information through voice commands.
The system is powered by the company’s cognitive services platform, using “augmented intelligence with automated learning to provide access to an extensive range of tools, documents and data sources.”
Essentially MIKA is designed to offer quick answers to engineer questions, based on experience drawn from other networks – so, it’s not entirely unlike Siri or Alexa, but it’ll provide answers to engineering questions, instead of turning on a smart lightbulb or checking the local weather.
The announcement comes as the company’s been building a fair amount of heat in the weeks leading up to Mobile World Congress. The world’s biggest phone show is set to see the once-beloved brand’s big return to the smartphone space it once so unceremoniously left behind.
Of course, that’s the HMD version, the Nokia name being licensed out by a local company formed from ex-pats of the tech giant. Those devices are more likely to get paired with Google Assistant than Nokia’s new offering.
SAN FRANCISCO — Hugo Barra, the former Google executive who left Xiaomi Corp. this week, has signed on at Facebook to lead all of the giant social network’s virtual reality efforts including Oculus.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made the surprise announcement in a Facebook post Wednesday night.
“Hugo shares my belief that virtual and augmented reality will be the next major computing platform. They’ll enable us to experience completely new things and be more creative than ever before. Hugo is going to help build that future, and I’m looking forward to having him on our team,” Zuckerberg wrote.
The Facebook post was accompanied by a digitized image of the two executives in Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. “Hugo’s in China right now,” Zuckerberg wrote. “So here we are together in VR. It seems fitting.”
In a Twitter post, Barra, who this week left Xiaomi where he ran the Chinese phone maker’s global division, said he was signing on as Facebook’s vice president of virtual reality.
In a comment on Zuckerberg’s Facebook post, he wrote: “It’s been a dream of mine to work in virtual reality even back when AR/VR were just figments of science fiction; now we’re taking selfies in virtual worlds.”
The virtual reality selfie is real
Zuckerberg has hailed virtual reality as the next major computing platform after mobile devices. That spurred Facebook’s purchase of Oculus. Beyond Oculus, Facebook envisions a not too distant future in which people can connect and gather in virtual spaces.
Facebook gives sneak peek into sci-fi future
Last February during an appearance at Mobile World Congress, Zuckerberg hailed VR as “the most social platform.”
“Pretty soon we’re going to live in a world where everyone has the power to share and experience whole scenes as if you’re just there, right there in person,” Zuckerberg said.
Picking up Barra is a major coup for Facebook. Barra, who was recruited by Xiaomi from a top Android job at Google in in 2013, will lead Oculus which has been without a CEO since last month when Brendan Iribe took on a different role.
“I’ve known Hugo for a long time, starting when he helped develop the Android operating system, to the last few years he’s worked at Xiaomi in Beijing bringing innovative devices to millions of people,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook pop-up stores offer taste of VR
Barra brings experience with mobile software and with hardware, which he will need to guide Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Gear products which have yet to develop mainstream appeal. He also helped Xiaomi debut its own virtual reality headset.
In testimony last week in a lawsuit brought against Oculus by game publisher Zenimax, Zuckerberg said Facebook would spend $3 billion over the next decade to help bring virtual reality to the world.