Boston: The leader in City Science education

The city of Boston was named the most efficient large U.S. city in the American Council in 2013. But the reason why I have included Boston in third place after Dubai and  Sunat of the dedicated series of Top List of Smart Cities for 2015 in my blog in i-Ambiente is because I expect Boston will be a reference in City Science Education.

Boston – The leader in City Science education

Boston has been a leader in education for more than 400 years. Building on the network of universities, learning and tech companies, and a big talent base, there are more than 130 education technology and learning-oriented startups in the Boston area.

The smart city has become a buzzword in urban planning and university engineering departments, and a topic of breathless coverage in science and business magazines. Although today the vision exists more in the realm of promise than reality, cities such as Boston have begun to invest time and chunks of their budget to laying the groundwork. At MIT, the Senseable Cities Lab is developing new technologies to gather and visualize city data, and a recent symposium at Boston University brought together leaders from the city government, IBM, and BU to discuss potential partnerships, including a possible smart-city incubator at the university.

The MIT Media Lab launched some themes representing a cross section of the interdisciplinary research that will be undertaken to address the major challenges associated with global urbanization.

A Cyber-Physical Infrastructure for the “Smart City” This work addresses fundamental problems that involve data collection, dynamic resource allocation, real-time decision making, safety, and security, with emphasis on a balanced understanding of both physical and “cyber” components.

Developing a Robust and Responsive Sensor Network To help overcome challenges of limited sensor battery life and various transmission obstacles, BU researchers are developing algorithms and simulations to optimize the deployment and implementation of these networks.

High Performance Networking using Visible Light Requiring far less energy than current light bulbs, a new generation of solid state LED “smart lights” can illuminate a defined space and facilitate high-speed, optical wireless communications without WIFI. As a commercial and residential lighting source, LEDs are unique in their ability to turn on and off so quickly the eye cannot notice and therein lies their ability to transmit data at a larger bandwidth and with higher security than radio-based Wi-Fi.

Green Computing BU researchers are focused on environmentally sustainable computing, particularly the study and practice of designing, manufacturing, and using computing resources – within a wide range from small embedded computing devices to large scale clusters, datacenters, and cloud computing – efficiently and effectively with substantially lower energy costs than today and with minimal impact on the environment.

Big Data Working across BU are faculty focused on methods and tools for data-intensive computing and large-scale data management and analysis as applied to the Smart City and other application areas.  This includes Data Mining and Machine Learning; Database Management Systems; Data Indexing and Search; Data Fusion, Compression, and Summarization; Statistical Data Analysis and Characterization; and Spatial and Spatio-temporal Data Analysis.

Advanced Sustainable Buildings and the Smart Grid This research is developing a framework for the design of next generation buildings with the goal towards greater resiliency, lower costs and increased environmental sustainability. These advanced sustainable buildings consume and produce energy via a smart micro-grid that integrates smart appliances, distributed storage, energy generation, and other grid friendly devices such as hybrid vehicles. Other related research is focused on reducing costs of the transmission network.

Enhancing Energy Efficiency for Urban Housing This research investigates the effect of split incentives on energy efficiency and the potential for behavioral nudges to increase energy efficiency at little or no cost.  Working with operators and residents of low income housing, the research will also study the relationship between energy efficiency measures and capital investments in energy efficiency technology.

Optimizing Building Energy Efficiency HVAC accounts for 50 to 70% of total building energy and these energy costs scale strongly with the airflow of the HVAC system. Researchers are developing a software tool that can re-optimize an existing HVAC system without the need for new equipment nor expensive audits. It is essentially a software solution that can achieve large energy reductions at a low cost.

Lost and Unaccounted Natural Gas This research investigates the extensive natural gas leaks in Greater Boston which contribute to greenhouse warming. These leaks have been implicated in the damage and mortality of the urban and suburban forest canopy. Exploring the human and natural ecology of rural, suburban and urban communities, this study examines the economic and environmental impact of these gas leaks.

Metabolism of Boston Carbon is a principal currency connecting human and natural systems. This research measures and models interactions of humans, plants, animals, physical processes, urban infrastructure, and marine and terrestrial ecosystems, focusing on one important component: carbon flows associated with biological and anthropogenic activity.

Algorithmic Approaches to Personalized HealthCare Driven by the need for more preventive medical care, this research team is developing algorithms that can systematically process all patient data from electronic medical records and personalized health records. These algorithms will be designed to classify patients based on the risk of developing an acute condition and establish preventive medical interventions to avoid hospitalization and more serious health consequences.

Enhancing Sleep Quality with the Blue-Spectrum Light Studies of human circadian rhythm imply that the blue spectrum of visible light is responsible for cortisol/melatonin cycles. Augmenting or diminishing the presence of this blue spectrum can therefore affect sleep quality.

Countering Cyber Attacks By developing new ways to detect intrusions into private networks, Boston University researchers are hoping to improve upon current computer data protection. The team aims to develop anomaly detection that will monitor network traffic and better detect attacks, a key first step to more effective countermeasures.

Securing the Open Softphone Part of an interdisciplinary team, BU researchers are addressing the hardware, software, and networking challenges in making “softphones “more secure. For example they are leveraging unique features where a softphone’s sensors could be programmed to confirm its user’s biometric signature before granting access to the device, or detecting the physical proximity of an unknown caller before accepting the connection.

Video Monitoring and Action Recognition BU researchers have devised a technique to process video data and pinpoint unusual events in cluttered urban environments that is faster and more reliable than conventional approaches.   In a related effort, researchers are also working to improve the accuracy of action recognition‹ such as walking, jumping or waving- from camera-recorded digital video signals and is a framework that consistently exceeds the performance of state-of-the-art methods.

A New Smart-City Open Cloud Platform in Boston

Boston University received $800,000 from the National Science Foundation to research, prototype, and evaluate new kinds of “smart city” services for the city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. At the heart of the project is “Smart-City Cloud-Based Open Platform and Ecosystem” (SCOPE), a “multisided marketplace” for smart-city services that will live on an open cloud infrastructure. The overall project is intended to help people get to city and state resources, change behaviors collectively and support innovations in transportation, healthcare, energy distribution and emergency response.

The grant was to the university’s Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, which pulled together an interdisciplinary group to develop SCOPE. Researchers come from Boston U’s departments of computer science, electrical and computer engineering, earth and environment, strategy and innovation, and city planning and urban affairs as well as the Office of Technology Development. The group will also work with industry partners such as Schneider Electric and analyst firm IDC. Government participants will include the state’s technology agency and the city of Boston, among others.

The services will live on Massachusetts Open Cloud, a new public cloud project created through collaboration among local universities, industry and state agencies. It’s visualized as a marketplace where contributors — public and private — can make their services available free or for pay and where multiple entities can work together to create new assets.

SCOPE will take advantage of existing Boston U projects, including the use of sensor networking for traffic light control applications, fusing data from multiple sources for route planning and public works scheduling and environmental monitoring of carbon emissions in urban settings.

But there are critics too

Building the metropolis of the future—green, wired, even helpful- sound fantastic but critics are starting to ask whether we’ll really want to live there.

As Boston becomes more fully wired, the vision is to link its isolated systems to make them more powerful, merging functions like safety surveillance, traffic counting, and environmental monitoring into a shared stream of data that turns the city into almost an organism of its own.

But critics watching these developments see something else at work as well: a massive shift in urban priorities conducted largely out of the public eye. Smart-city infrastructure like software, sensors, and networked systems may seem more ephemeral than a highway or a water supply, but its legacy will similarly shape how cities work for the next generation.

These critics are advocating not that Boston shun technology, but that they foster a more open debate about how best to adopt it—and a public airing of the questions cities need to ask. One question is how deeply cities rely on private companies to set up and maintain the systems they run on.


Boston Universities researchers are developing concepts, systems and applications designed to make city life more efficient, cleaner, safer and less costly than ever before. Collaborating with experts in academia, government and industry, faculties and students are advancing Smart Cities systems and technologies as well as exploring economic, environmental and public policy implications.

Cities are focal points for human civilization and they may well be on the verge of new transformation, one that not only alters how they run but what their residents’ lives are like. Different ways of implementing technology could create very different cities, not all of them desirable places to live.

I hope that Boston could be the City Science Education reference model to follow.

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