St. Pete joins U.S. Ignite smart city ecosystem

Instead of just peering through a small microscope in their high school lab, students at a STEM school in Chattanooga, TN, can learn about microbiology in a novel way. In their classroom, 1,800 miles away from Los Angeles, the students observe high-definition 4K images of microbes sent to them in real-time via a high-speed gigabit network connecting them directly with the University of Southern California.

In Texas, research engineers at two universities are looking at the potential for using drones to bring WiFi access to public events, rural areas or emergency situations when infrastructure does not exist or has been destroyed. And, in coastal North Carolina, a new app is being tested that can help better predict hurricanes and storm surges.  

Ideas like these and more are the goal of U.S. Ignite, a national nonprofit helping create high-speed, connected “smart” cities of the future. In January, U.S. Ignite named St. Petersburg the first city in Florida and the 27th city in the country to become part of the organization’s Smart Gigabit Communities

Other Smart Gigabit Communities include Burlington, VT.; Austin, TX; San Diego, CA., Phoenix, AZ, Colorado Springs, CO., and Cleveland, OH.

What does that mean for St. Pete and the city’s future? 

According to Bill Wallace, executive director of U.S. Ignite, the benefits are extensive: national visibility; economic development opportunities; and access to best practices toolkits and national partner and grant funding to make it all happen. “The goal is to drive the innovation ecosystem, create new jobs, services, startups, and investments,” says Wallace. 

A former St. Pete native and a graduate of Northeast High School, Wallace was the guest speaker at the first “Sunny Side Up, a series of forums planned by the Kate Tiedemann College of Business at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership.

“For St. Petersburg and other cities in U.S. Ignite’s Smart Gigabit Communities Program, it’s all about looking at how technology can help solve a city’s challenges, says Wallace. “Technology can address issues in public safety and security; infrastructure, healthcare, transportation, energy needs, and education and workforce training. It’s about making small incremental changes to get where you want to be 10, 20 years from now.”

As an example of future innovative technology, Wallace points to the use of drones by firefighters for visual surveillance and risk assessment before they enter a building. A smart electrical grid can automatically divert energy to a new pathway to get homes and retail buildings up and running minutes after a tree falls on a power line. Immersive workforce education could use virtual reality to supplement training manuals.  Automated water and waste management could be used to identify peak demand usage to save costs.

“This is an opportunity for St. Petersburg to “re-imagine itself,” says Sridhar Sundaram, dean of the Kate Tiedemann College of Business. “We have a vision and a commitment. There’s a lot to think about.”

Brainstorming ideas, setting priorities

Alison Barlow, executive director of St. Petersburg's Innovation District, is taking the lead in coordinating efforts with U.S. Ignite and pulling together St. Pete stakeholders to brainstorm ideas and identify priorities.

St. Petersburg’s Innovation District, a several-mile area along the waterfront, is home to USFSP, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, the USF College of Marine Science, and a half dozen marine-related organizations such as the Florida Institute of Oceanography. It’s a district the city has identified as a prime area for potential economic development.

The first stakeholder meeting took place last month with 15 individuals representing the university, the city, the Chamber and a number of entrepreneurial leaders. The meeting, held immediately after the first Sunny Side Up forum, was meant to get a head start on discussing how St. Pete intends to proceed. Barlow was positive about the results.

“It’s still early in the process, but we have about a half-dozen ideas that we are beginning to vet,” says Barlow. “At the top of the list are some exciting ideas for education and issues like public safety and security.”

The next “Sunny Side Up” forum sponsored by USFSP and the Downtown Partnership will take place on Wednesday, March 20, at USFSP’s Lynn Pippenger Hall. The guest speaker will be Keith Brophy, a technology entrepreneur and CEO of Ideomed, which specializes in chronic disease self-management web and mobile tools. He’ll be talking about the future of technology in healthcare. 

For more information, visit the Sunny Side Up information page at USFSP's website. 
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Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.