Photo Credit: Miovision CEO Kurtis McBride. (Photo: Cam Davies, Miovision)

Written by Craig Daniels

McBride is the CEO of Miovision, a traffic data and infrastructure company that helps cities improve their traffic management. He’s also one of the driving forces behind Catalyst137, a former tire and footwear warehouse in Kitchener that is being repurposed into a 475,000-square-foot facility to house the manufacturing of smart devices connected to the Internet of Things.

McBride believes the Smart Cities Challenge, a $300-million program — a contest, in effect — designed to spur municipalities to implement a smart-cities strategy, is tailor-made for a region like Waterloo, and has begun the process of contacting and assembling various local stakeholders to build an application designed to do one thing: Win.

“I would love to see the region, the municipalities, the [economic development] groups, incubators and a lot of the smart-city companies – Alert Labs, Miovision, FleetCarma and others – I’d love to see a proposal go in that basically says: ‘We’re going to turn [this] region into a world-class, world-leading example of a smart city, in terms of live-streaming data from as much city infrastructure as we can possibly connect.

“I can’t imagine that there’s a tighter-knit community, with all the assets we have, that could put in as compelling an application [as Waterloo Region].”

Morneau’s budget, tabled in the House of Commons Wednesday, was chock full of initiatives designed to spur innovation, including $950 million for supercluster growth, the launch of a national strategy for artificial intelligence, a venture capital initiative and a skills program, to name just a few.

“For me, it really is a transformative budget that is really looking to give Canada and its cities [new] foundations for the next 50 years,” said Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic.

One of the more intriguing elements from the budget was the Smart Cities Challenge. It’s conceived as an 11-year program, administered by Industry Canada and focused on IoT, the aim being to “encourage cities to adopt new and innovative approaches to city-building.”

Smart Cities Challenge is modelled after a similar program in the United States. Last year, the U.S. version of the challenge was won by Columbus, Ohio, which received US$50 million to build a smart transportation service using self-driving and connected vehicles.

Wednesday’s budget was unclear about just how big the Canadian prize would be, but speculation Thursday was that CDN$50 million wasn’t out of the question.

“I think a project like that can go an incredibly long way to piloting a bunch of new technology that could be revolutionary across Canada for all municipalities,” said Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky.

“I think that’s what the federal government is getting at. [These are] the kinds of things that won’t be evolutionary, but revolutionary. It could very well be [that for the] companies of Waterloo Region [which are] inventing that technology, [this contest] could be the catalyst for them to go further.

“Every city aspires to be a smart city, whereby we help our citizens without putting more burden on the taxpayer. So, Smart Cities Challenge will encourage all cities to think deeply about how they might engineer some of their business processes, how they work with citizens more effectively.”

Communitech is slated to open a data hub in the City of Waterloo in May. Both mayors were thinking the various tech assets throughout the region, including the data hub and Catalyst137, not to mention the startup ecosystem itself and the companies it has spawned, would position it to make a strong bid.

McBride, who was among several players in the region who took part in advising the government during the budget’s consultancy phase, was thinking down the same path.

He said his company is already in the process of designing a broad, smart-city plan for “a major city in the U.S. northeast,” and envisioned using that plan as a rough template that would turn Waterloo Region “into a giant IoT playground for application developers.

“I think we talk to the stakeholders, the users, the buyers, and try to piece together an architecture that minimized the cost of the initial hardware that has to be deployed and then maximized its utility.”

Another Waterloo Region company playing a role in making cities smarter is Alert Labs. It is working on a pilot project with the City of Guelph to provide residents with smart water meters to help reduce water use and provide real-time monitoring.

Asked for his post-budget impression, CEO George Tsintzouras said: “We’re thrilled to see the Canadian government providing significant funding to enable new technology deployment on a large scale.

“Alert Labs believes there are three criteria crucial to successful smart-city deployment: An easy-to-install technology solution that can retrofit existing infrastructure, progressive municipalities that are motivated to engage in new ways to bring benefits to their residents, and government funding to support execution of these programs.”


Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto.  This article originally appeared on their site.