City Hall is looking for ways the Internet of Things can improve city life - Philly


City Hall is looking for ways the Internet of Things can improve city life

Philadelphia city government is launching a “Smart City Challenge” and issuing a call for ideas. Apply by Aug. 12.

City Hall.

(Photo by Flickr user Michael Righi, used under a Creative Commons license)

Just the other day, at a press conference announcing Curalate as an official technology provider for the Democratic National Convention, Mayor Jim Kenney said he was glad to see the DNC take advantage of Philly’s tech resources.

Now city government is looking to harness some of that tech energy through the Smart City Challenge, an open call for ideas from citizens and experts on how the city can improve services and operations through tech. At this stage, the city is looking for ideas on how to leverage city assets — think streetlight poles and cell towers — through that elusive idea that is the internet of things (IoT).

City officials said in a press release that they hope to hear from technologists, telecommunications specialists, social entrepreneurs, engineers, architects, designers and general city enthusiasts working locally or internationally.

“We know the people of this city — in the neighborhoods and in the private sector — are steeped in great ideas, and this is an effort to tap into that wealth of creative thinking,” said Chief Administrative Officer Rebecca Rhynhart, who is overseeing the challenge. “Whatever your background, if you have an innovative idea on new uses for city assets, we want to hear from you.”

Rhynhart told in a phone interview that the key difference between this city initiative and StartUp PHL’s Call for Ideas grants is that the Smart City Challenge is specifically geared at IoT and finding tech applications for the city’s assets.

“It’s not a rebranding of the same effort,” Rhynhart said. “Both are calls for ideas, and they’re similar in that sense, but this is specifically on the assets to promote the internet of things.”

Here’s a few suggestions of ideas the challenge is looking for:


  • Remote meter-reading that allows information to be collected and forwarded to the Water Department for billing purposes.
  • Dynamic street lighting systems that can be controlled remotely, react to citizens, provide valuable data and/or reduce energy costs.
  • Detection devices that can identify a gunshot and send the information to the City’s 911 Center while simultaneously alerting the City’s cameras in the vicinity to focus in on the location.
  • Technologies that can detect changes in traffic flows, pedestrian and cyclist activity, and parking availability.
  • Public WiFi in commercial and neighborhood corridors that would support communities of mobile/flexible workers.
  • Public Safety Surveillance: Additional video surveillance points and cameras, used exclusively for public safety purposes, which police could monitor, especially in high crime areas.

The first stage of the challenge is a Request for Information (RFI) to gather as many ideas as possible. The deadline for the RFI is Aug. 12, so companies and individuals interested in applying better get cracking. After this process wraps up, a Request for Proposals will follow from the applicants of the first round.


The Challenge is the result of a partnership with Citymart, a group that partners with cities to help them seek new solutions to procurement. Citymart will help Philly disseminate the RFI. According to Rhynhart, Citymart is being paid by the city through a Knight Foundation grant.

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