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IBM officials partner with Boston, BU to grow ‘smarter city’

Boston University officials are partnering with executives from IBM and the city of Boston to promote better technologies for urban energy efficiency.

Officials hosted a series of panels on Wednesday titled “Smarter Cities: A Roadmap for the Future” at the BU Photonics Center, focusing on how technology is helping cities run more efficiently.

“The purpose of this partnership was to explore opportunities, to develop new technologies and develop new ways that these technologies can be used within the city of Boston,” said professor Christos Cassandras, head of the Division of Systems Engineering.

IBM Vice President of Smarter Physical Infrastructure Dave Bartlett said there is talk of establishing a center at BU for Smart Cities that would be funded jointly by the city of Boston, IBM and potentially other companies. The creation of a new center or institute would promote the ideas of Smarter Cities in a series of courses.

“Student participation with BU’s Sustainable Neighborhood Lab, a real-world laboratory that provides a platform for research, experiential education and commercialization of urban sustainability tools, is a goal for the university,” he said.

More than 150 government officials, academic leaders, industry influencers, venture capitalists, press and analysts attended the conference said Bartlett.

“The crux of the event was to promote the idea that we could build an urban area that mines information to deliver city or regional services more effectively and efficiently,” he said. “It is a reality today … IBM is helping Boston, one of the oldest cities in the U.S., make its city ‘smarter’ one step at a time.”

The partnership began in June when officials from IBM, BU and the city of Boston announced the Smarter Planet project designed to create solutions to long-standing urban challenges, according to a March 11 IBM press release.

“We actually had a one-month period where IBM sent a team of some of their experts in areas such as traffic control, environmental monitoring and software related to those energy-smarter buildings,” Cassandras said. “That created the foundation for a broader type of partnership, and this type of event was, in a sense, to celebrate the continuation of the partnership.”

Cassandras said in addition to representatives from IBM and the City of Boston, a number of companies and developers had members attend Wednesday’s conference to help contribute to developing the city.

“We also had people from various companies, including small companies, startups that are looking for opportunities to do high-tech stuff in a smarter city, venture capitalists who were looking for opportunities and real estate developers who were obviously interested in developing a smarter city,” he said.

The conference was an opportunity to bring the various key players and stakeholders together to determine if they can institutionalize and solidify efforts, Cassandras said.

“The success of these events is usually measured by the level of the audience participation and the excitement generated by the discussion that follows the panelists’ statements, and I was quite impressed,” he said.

Lucy Hutyra, professor of earth and environment, said Wednesday’s conference was a step toward creating a more unified effort between the three involved parties, Hutrya said.

“We’ve been doing these various Smarter Cities-related projects kind of one at a time,” she said. “This event was about how to take this from being about single projects to being something larger, more sustained and coordinated.”

Hutrya said the Smarter Cities team is using technology for advancements such as smarter parking, better traffic control and for monitoring the quality of air and other environmental improvements.

“The city has problems that need solutions,” Hutyra said. “Some of those, through partnering with IBM directly, could result in tailored solutions that could actually solve the right problems.”

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