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The Forge

Building the Smartest City, Part 1

Machine Design visits Columbus, Ohio to follow up on how it’s using DoT grant money to become an innovative place to live, learn, and labor.

There were many cities applying for the U.S. Department of Education’s Smart Cities Grant in 2016 in an effort to facilitate their transformations into beacons of technology. But in the end, the coveted $40 million prize was awarded to Columbus Ohio.  

Columbus’ government collaborated with private industry to raise more than $140 million in their effort to win the grant. However, $140 million was just the start. Officials wanted to raise enough capital and collaborators for Columbus to serve as a guide for other cities to follow into the future of smart technology. To become a technologically trailblazing city, officials announced at the Smart Cities NYC 2017 Conference that Columbus has a total goal of $1 billion funding for smart city applications that cover autonomous driving, connected roads, smart parking, advanced IoT utilizes, and…

  • Improve people’s quality of life 
  • Drive growth in the economy 
  • Provide better access to jobs and ladders of opportunity 
  • Become a world-class logistics leader 
  • Foster sustainability

This attention has sparked a lot of interest in Columbus, which had raised $500 million by the end of 2017 alone. I decided to teamed with Development Counsellors International (DCI) to check out what’s happening in the area. My first stop was at the Forge, the name of the office space used by Pillar Technology.

The Forge

A picture from outside the Forge doesn’t show it, but inside there is a startup vibe with a large open space. Employees have work stations, couches, a kitchen, and stylish interior decor.

The Forge is a converted industrial space with an open-office design, giving it the look and feel of a swanky startup. Inside the Forge a large open area with whiteboards filled with multiple projects and work statuses. This space seems like an ideal dynamic work environment, but I came to the office to talk about manufacturing and bridging the gap between physical and digital.

Pillar Technology is a technology consulting company that uses software craftsmanship, strategy, innovation, and marketing to solve business problems. In April, the Columbus City Council approved a $2.5 million contract with Pillar to develop the operating system to share and analyze data on transportation technologies for Smart Columbus.

Pillar is working with the USDOT to envision a city where transportation and community challenges are addressed by technology and data driven-solutions. Pillar is calling this Industry X.0, and it works with Smart Columbus to advance the capabilities of the operating system—a tool where data is accessed to evaluate the impact of the Smart City Challenge grant projects, which will serve as a guide to other cities how to use data for solving complex challenges.

Pilllar data

In an autonomous driving application, Pillar is using data to help increase the driver experience to help capture more market share in the $47 billion connected car market.

Technology in software extends to many verticals. Even events like expos are starting to generate custom apps. In addition, with the increase of IoT, AI, and blockchain, manufacturers are inundated with software and data that some decision makers might not know how to take advantage of. Replacing current equipment might not be optimal, so for now, retrofitting will need to take place for much of the industry. The problem is, many manufacturers have questions.

  • Who needs the data?
  • What do I connect?
  • Where does the data need to go?
  • When do I need data?
  • How do I connect it?

One of the biggest problems is while factories are getting caught up, others are already ahead of the curve using real-time feedback to find new revenue streams. Companies that can’t figure out how to become flexible and adapt quicker might lose market share or go out of business. Pillar works on software to solve these problems. Working with manufacturers, the company uses over 20 years of consulting experience to uncover and execute industry-disrupting opportunities as quickly as possible. Some large companies have collaborated with Pillar Software on autonomous driving, agriculture, and healthcare applications.

Pillar Technology was just my first stop, and after passing self-driving cars on my way to the Forge and see some of the projects Pillar Technology is working on, it looks like Columbus and its collaborators are figuring out what technologies will lead it into the future of building smarter cities. In the following series I’ll visit more of Columbus’ innovative companies, educators, and research facilities, including:

  • JE Grote Company. A family-owned and operated manufacturer of food processing equipment that built its corporate headquarters in the Columbus Region in 1982. Since then, the company has become a leading manufacturer of slicing and food assembly equipment globally. 
  • CoverMyMeds. A healthcare software company that creates software to automate the prior authorization process used by some U.S. health insurance companies. CoverMyMeds became Columbus’ first unicorn after being acquired by McKesson in Jan. 2017.
  • The Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research (CAR) is an interdisciplinary research center in Ohio State University’s College of Engineering, as well as the preeminent research center in sustainable and safe mobility in the United States. Focused on preparing the next generation of automotive leaders, CAR is recognized for interdisciplinary emphasis on systems engineering, advanced and unique experimental facilities, collaboration on advanced product development projects with industry, and a balance of government and privately sponsored research.
  • Columbus State Community College offers a wide range of programs to prepare students to transfer to a four-year college (boasting more than 200 transfer opportunities) or enter the workforce directly after graduation.
  • Transportation Research Center (TRC) is the largest independent test facility and proving grounds in the U.S. Since the 1970s, TRC has been the home of the only federal vehicle research and test laboratory for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In July 2018, TRC began construction on a $45 million state-of-the-art automated and connected vehicle facility.
  • Union County Chamber of Economic Development: I meet with Executive Director Eric Phillips to talk about the Smart City projects happening around Columbus
  • Smart Columbus Experience Center. This is a first-of-its-kind public learning destination that showcases Columbus’ nationally recognized smart mobility efforts and, more importantly, educates the local (and national) public about the benefits of electric vehicles (EVs) by providing a pressure-free environment to test-drive them. Opened in June 2018, the Experience Center is located on the Scioto Mile riverfront in the heart of downtown Columbus and is modeled on world-class experiential environments that are proven to engage residents and facilitate change.
  • Ready Robotics. This developer and supplier of innovative automation solutions moved its headquarters from Baltimore to the Columbus Region in Dec. 2018. Ready Robotics is a robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) company and closed a $15 million funding round led by Columbus-based Drive Capital in 2017.

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