I recently had the opportunity to attend the Smart Cities Innovation Summit in Austin, Texas, both as a speaker about our mobile platform for cities as well as to learn about the latest innovations within the smart cities industry which spans a broad range of technologies and initiatives aimed at improving the efficiencies, security and quality of life within cities. 

High Speed Growth in Smart Cities Industry

And while we haven't quite achieved that moment when, "Beam me up!" can actually happen, this year's summit certainly showcased a multitude of highly specialized, targeted smart technologies - everything from artificial intelligence enhancing rescue and relief efforts immediately after catastrophic earthquakes, a project being done by the team at One Concern, to several technologies blended together in a collaborative effort by Rutgers School of Engineering and the City College of New York in a pilot project aimed and making it better for those with special needs, like the visually impaired and those with autism, to navigate in crowded, urban settings.

It was interesting to compare this year's massive Smart City Innovation Summit, with over 200 cities in attendance, with the Cities Summit I attended in London, England, only two years earlier.

The 2014 Cities Summit, hosted by then-mayor Boris Johnson and CityMart, brought together 30 global decision-makers and early innovators to explore the potential of using smart city technologies as a means address the coming demands within cities and to improve quality of life. It was an intimate gathering - heady, exciting, and full of promise. 


Witnessing the speed of change in just the past two years, it might be tempting to think that most of the difficult challenges are behind us. 

I believe the real challenges lie ahead.

Why Platforms and Grids Are Key

For most cities, the real challenge will be in finding sustainable, manageable ways to connect this growing wealth of solutions through scalable, flexible platforms and grids.

And while much of today's efforts are focused on specific solutions for targeted industries or issues, the next stage will require collaboration between cities, universities, corporations, startups and foundations to establish broad, interconnected systems of integrated technologies and data sources.

Even more importantly, it is vital that cities not delay in addressing security issues, both from a policy perspective and as a practice so that new technologies and solutions are adequately protected.

The Past, Present and Future of Smart City Tech

On a recent family vacation, we toured the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, and it took me back to some of the earliest days of this digital revolution.

While our teenage son, whose generation is among the first to be considered digital natives, enjoyed climbing inside the old aircraft on display and testing his skills as a fighter pilot in the museum's 360 flight simulator, it was his reaction to the ship's computer, a 1963 UNIVAC CP-642B, that brought home for me just how much has changed.

Noticing the ship's computer boasted a whopping 32 kilobytes of memory, he laughed. 

"Those poor sailors. Just imagine ... after the thirtieth loop of Taylor Swift's "We are Never Ever Getting Back Together" ... I imagine some poor guy saying, "Sorry, man, I ran out of storage after that one song. It's all we've got."  

In reality, the ship's 32 kilobytes wouldn't have stored the song's artwork, much less the music (which would take almost two more decades to be available in digital format).

Smart cities innovations have come a long way from those early breakthroughs which helped pave the way to where we are today. And while the pace of innovation is certainly faster now than most of us imagined, there is still so much more ahead before we can achieve the goal of the fully integrated, connected smart city.

We're not quite Star Trek, but we've come very a long way.

Published on: Jun 24, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.