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4 ‘Living Labs’ Where Entrepreneurs Are Working to Solve Cities’ Thorniest Challenges

If your city doesn’t have a living lab, you may be missing out.

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BY Chelsea Collier - 28 Nov 2017

4 'Living Labs' Where Entrepreneurs Are Working to Solve Cities' Thorniest Challenges

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Innovation starts at a local level, driven by entrepreneurs who solve the problems that are right in front of them. A city provides an endless supply of areas to improve upon but it can be difficult to know where to start.

Several cities are creating Living Labs, which are platforms to streamline and integrate technology applications. A secondary but equally important benefit is that they provide a rallying place for businesses large and small along with other public and private sector stakeholders. A Living Lab is a roadmap for innovators to create, connect and collaborate.

Here are four examples of Living Labs in the US, each with their own unique format and focus.

1. Kansas City Living Lab

In the heart of America's heartland a team of public and private sector partners are "building smart cities of the future". The Lab is based in Kansas City and sources emerging technology from all over the world in order to rapidly accelerate innovation while reducing the cost to build and commercialize.

The city collaborates with Think Big Partners, Sensity, Cisco and Smart City Media. One of the projects of the Lab includes Smart Lighting, an effort that has already reduced energy and maintenance costs by $4 million.

The project is also focused on citizen engagement at the ground level through a suite of mobile applications. These interactive digital tools make smart city technology relevant to the every day user. Mobile alerts on transportation options or things to do and see nearby provide the ability for people to literally visualize the positive impact of real-time data.

2. Concept Foundry

The latest Living Lab announcement is not one but 15 sites. The Concept Foundry has partnered with MakeOffices, a co-working concept that enables the platform to scale instantly.

The solution is focused on improving on how individuals live and work by combining technology, artificial intelligence (AI), marketing and physical workspace. The platform includes a personal assistant, customer relationship management (CRM) tools and an AI-enabled "sandbox" to test and prove ideas or discover new partners.

The concept extends to buildings and cities thanks to an intelligent adaptive system that improves and learns with each interaction.

Minh Le, chief executive officer of believes this is the creation of a new kind of ecosystem will "breed collaborative innovation and extend into the real world." The platform comes out of Innovation Hub at Gramercy District, a private $700+ million Smart City project, located on the Silver Line Metro site in Loudoun County, VA.

3. The Ray

Inspired by the legacy of environmental leader Ray C. Anderson, the Ray is an 18-mile Living Lab dedicated to transportation innovation located just an hour outside of Atlanta.

The promise is to test and prove what is possible through the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected technology in order to improve roadways. The scope is broad. Data will be collected and shared on everything from traffic, weather, environmental impacts, road conditions and even vehicle conditions such as monitoring tire pressure. The effort also explores ways to turn highways into sources of renewable energy and test beds for new construction materials.

This effort is created in collaboration with the Georgia Department of Transportation as well as university, private and public sector organizations. The Ray is already yielding results with a long list of new projects "coming soon" and more big ideas on the way.

4 - Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA)

This Texas-based 501(c)3 is spearheading a multi-phase, three-pronged smart city effort in the Dallas Innovation District. Focused on infrastructure, mobility and connected living, the DIA welcomes industry, government and community partners to propose technology and people-centric solutions.

Interactive digital kiosks are already in place, providing information to residents and visitors as well as Wi-Fi and USB charging stations. Future phased efforts include intelligent LED lighting and an end-to-end transportation application that allows for a single point solution for all methods of transit from bike share to car share to smart parking. The platform also enhances water conservation and smart irrigation through its Advanced Metering Infrastructure.

Of particular interest to entrepreneurs is the Open Source Platform, which encourages the creation of smart city applications using aggregated data. All data captured from the project will be provided through this and the Dallas Open Data portal.

More US-based Labs

There are dozens of Living Labs across the US, many of which leverage university research capabilities. The MITbigdata Living Lab focuses on the potential power of data by combining a variety of collected information from personal activity, campus wifi and even external sources such as social media or environmental sources. The result is a "testbed for data innovation" as evidenced at The Hack MIT event in October which showcased several winning examples including a three dimensional representation of campus via an Oculus headset.

And not all Living Labs center solely on technology. The University of Chicago Urban Labs offers an opportunity to civic and community leaders to work across disciplines in the areas of Education, Energy, Crime, Health & Poverty.

This collaboration acknowledges that the most pressing community issues are interrelated and complex. Civic and community leaders partner through the Lab to share information, test and implement solutions in real time with the hopes of scaling what works.

Learning from our neighbors

Finally, the US is catching up to the concept that has long been at work in European countries as evidenced by the European Network of Living Labs. The University Living Lab at the University of Manchester in England is a collaborative platform to attract solutions from every sector in service of sustainability. Currently there are more than 80 projects in the works. In Sweden, the Botnia Living Lab was founded in 2000 and is the country's first and largest Living Lab with more than 6,000 users.

Living Labs combine virtual and physical space to provide the starting point for entrepreneurs to engage with their community. Living Labs can originate from a university, a nonprofit or a for profit company. It is up to each community to choose its best path so that they can share data, approaches and implementation efforts through a single platform.

Platforms bring partners together to scale solutions quickly. And when done well, the impact can be enormous. If you aren't already in touch with a Living Lab, look to some of the examples listed here. Or perhaps you are the person who will start the next Lab in the US. Either way, Living Lab platforms are a great place to engage and grow.

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