Good news for AU smart cities projects: the federal grants are flowing

"The Smart Cities and Suburbs Program wants to support clever ideas that fix local problems like street crime and lack of connectivity, and that can be replicated in other places, particularly in the outer suburbs of our cities and the regions." — The Hon Angus Taylor, Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation

The Smart Cities and Suburbs Program is a major component of the federal government's Smart Cities Plan. The $50 million program was conceived as a way to encourage and support cities as they explore innovative technology-based approaches to improving citizens' lives by enhancing existing services or adding new ones and doing it in a way that makes communities more liveable, sustainable, economically competitive and safe.

In the first round of awards announced earlier this month, 52 projects will receive $28.5 million to undertake a broad array of projects, including urban transportation improvements, sensor-based data collection and 3D modelling to support improved urban planning and design.

That $28.5 million will be matched by co-contributions from local governments, private industry, research organizations and others for a total investment of about $40 million.

It should be noted that the awards are not limited to metro areas. They're intended to be inclusive, with 40% of the earmarked for successful projects in regional areas as well.

Readers can click to the government's Smart Cities website or its Digital Marketplace beta site for a complete list of the 52 projects chosen for awards in round one — and a few projects are highlighted below:

Moretown Bay Regional Council was awarded $450,000 to provide smarter parking. A smart phone app will provide a map of where parking is available and digital signs will be installed to alert drivers to open parking spots on a street-by-street basis.

Perth was awarded $6 million and part of that funding will support the continuation of an RAC Intellibus trial. The driverless bus has been carrying passengers since August 2016. As South Perth Mayor Sue Doherty explained in a city news release, "Ultimately, the trial aims to understand how driverless vehicles can integrate into our transport network and give the public the opportunity to experience the technology for themselves." South Perth, Victoria and the city of Perth also will collaborate on a smart irrigation project to use real-time weather and environmental data to determine when and where water should be allocated. Other projects supported by the grant include renewable and energy storage, water system monitoring, rail station improvements and more.

The city of Greater Geelong was awarded $415,000 to provide city-wide free WiFi, LED smart streetlights and parking sensors as well as air and water quality sensors and more. As Taylor explained in a statement about Geelong's award-winning proposal, "Smart street furniture will literally 'switch on' the city, meaning residents and visitors can easily plug in to a range of technologies – charging your electric car, digital signage to assist the all-important tourism sector, street lights with sensors that react to anti-social behaviour.

"We're continually looking at projects to support the Geelong region transitioning from traditional manufacturing to a more diverse regional economy."

And not to worry: round two is coming up soon
The second round of the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program is expected to launch sometime in the first half of 2018.

Doug Peeples is a writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartcitiesanz on Twitter.