Have you ever stood impatiently on a New York City street corner on a hot day in July waiting for the pedestrian signal to change to “walk,” as you held your breath to avoid inhaling the sweet, moldering aroma coming from the nearby trash bin? Chances are you have, whether in New York or any other city on the planet.

The United States alone produces 33% of the world’s solid waste but accounts for just 4.6% of the global population. In fact, 80% of U.S. products are used once and thrown away despite tremendous advancements in recycling. New York City alone produces over fourteen tons of trash each day, which is enough to fill the Empire State Building. Imagine the view from the top of that trash pile!

Trash Collection Turns to Technology for Answers

Removing this much trash daily requires tremendous logistics. But it’s not just a question of curbing bad aromas; it’s an issue of public health and sanitation. Historically, trash removal was a brute force exercise. Today, automation and analytics are being used to reinvent trash collection. Think of it as digital transformation at the street level.

For example, solar-powered sensors attached to trash receptacles can automatically transmit data about the capacity status of a specific container via a wireless network created by device placement on utility poles or other nearby public infrastructure. Once the data is transmitted and received at the central trash collection station, a truck can be dispatched to empty a full trash container. Instant analytics at the network’s edge results in instant pick-up.

SB_India_572x286A solution like this isn’t just for highly developed countries with a mature public infrastructure. In India, my birthplace, waste management is an essential part of Swachh Bharat, the country’s national cleanliness campaign. The government is carefully evaluating the installation of a digitally powered solution like the example I described.

Everything’s Up To Date in Kansas City

As cities around the world become smarter through their use of digital technologies, one urban locale that is helping set a great example of how to effect change is here in the United States. Kansas City, Missouri has created a Living Lab to promote citizen engagement and act on ways to implement digital transformation to improve the city’s “Livability Index.”

At 319 square miles in size, Kansas City’s transformation will be far reaching. Central to the change is the city’s 93,000 street lights, which are being used as pillars to weave together a high bandwidth, low latency wireless sensor network that can move large amounts of data, while also providing Wi-Fi access to both citizens and public servants.

One way the City plans to turn these connections into solutions is through use of the Cisco Enterprise Mobility Services Platform (EMSP). The software platform helps bring together infrastructure, mobile applications and cloud services to allow citizens to take ownership of decisions anywhere within their city to report issues, protect or revitalize their community.

Further, using context-aware data and location-based services, EMSP opens up possibilities for local businesses to promote personalized offers to citizens in the immediate vicinity of their place of business. For example, on a sweltering summer’s day in Missouri, a refreshment vendor might promote a special offer on iced lemonade or frozen snacks as you walk by their location. EMSP can also show the way to create more engaging experiences for those attending a Kansas City Royals baseball game or an event at the downtown conference center.

The possibilities are virtually endless, which is why the Living Lab is encouraging new ideas by combining Cisco expertise with industry, citizen and government leadership to build smart city solutions together. Plans are already underway for better parking and traffic control, automated energy management, improved public safety, proactive infrastructure maintenance, theft prevention, and public transit accident avoidance among other ideas.

One Platform. Three Different Constituents. Unlimited Benefits.

All city data can be captured in an info portal powered by EMSP. Users can enter or access information via mobile devices or kiosks enabled by the infrastructure. Using one mobility software platform can help smart cities such as Kansas City tap into three major benefit areas:

  1. City Benefits: More efficient traffic flows, lower pollution, less environmental impact, improved infrastructure investments and greater budget efficiency.
  2. Citizen Benefits: Less traffic congestion, fewer frustrations, a better commute experience, safer roads and improved quality of life.
  3. Business Benefits: Real-time traffic monitoring, incident detection and analysis, added revenue opportunities using city infrastructure, and a new platform for business innovation.

But these benefits are just the beginning. Like many of the cities such as Barcelona, Spain and Songdo, South Korea participating in the Cisco Smart+Connected Communities initiative and that are accelerating digital transformation with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), the Kansas City Living Lab is open for new thinking. Seek them out if you have an idea or an application. Or, if your city is starting down the path to digitization, have your local government reach out to Kansas City for input.

What’s your city’s digital IQ when it comes to enhancing the way its citizens live, work, play and learn? I would love to hear from you. And, if you think your local government would like to learn more about what other cities are doing, forward them a copy of this blog to help them think about how to start down their own road to digital transformation. Time to take digital to the streets!


Mala Anand

No Longer with Cisco