Tel Aviv aims to become beta site for smart city tech

Idea aims to leverage city’s status as startup hub and its residents’ tendency to be early adopters, city official says

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

DLD celebrations in Tel Aviv (Courtesy: Kobi Koankas)
DLD celebrations in Tel Aviv (Courtesy: Kobi Koankas)

Tel Aviv plans to earmark one of its neighborhoods as a beta site to test out new technologies with the goal of developing smarter cities, a municipality official said in an interview.

“I believe this will happen in 2017,” Eytan Schwartz, who heads the Tel Aviv Global and Tourism company at the municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, said in an interview. “We are in the very initial stages of planning the project. Ideally we’d allow startups to test these technologies here in Tel Aviv and perhaps also adapt them for the use of the people of the city of Tel Aviv eventually.”

The idea, he said, is to leverage Tel Aviv’s status as an incubator for startups to foster smart city technology and enable entrepreneurs to test their technologies in a real setting, whether in the field of sanitation, lighting, parking management or smart parking.

“If you have an idea and want to try it out in the public sphere, we will make it happen,” he said. “We have this amazing startup ecosystem and city hall wants to be able to assist the entrepreneurs living here.”

Eytan Schwartz, head of the Tel Aviv Global and Tourism company at the municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa (Courtesy)
Eytan Schwartz, head of the Tel Aviv Global and Tourism company at the municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa (Courtesy)

Tel Aviv is ideal to host such a project as it is not huge in size and its citizens tend to be early adapters of technologies and are keen to try out new things, he said. The beta site project, which Schwartz believes is unique in the world, will likely be run in conjunction with a major academic institution, he said.

A drop in the cost of sensors in the past 10 years has spurred advances in the Internet of Things, in which sensors are placed on regular objects to make them intelligent. This is making an impact on a growing number of companies that are creating technologies to make our cities smarter: from smart parking devices to data-driven urban planning, more efficient waste management and better water and electricity usage and quality, according to New York data company CB Insights.

With 1,450 startups, the city of Tel Aviv has the highest concentration of startups per capita in the world, data provided by the municipality shows. There are 84 accelerators and incubators in Tel Aviv including multinational accelerator programs and R&D centers, like those of IBM, Citi, Barclays, Google, Microsoft and Samsung. There is no other European city with numbers like those, Schwartz said.

In 2014 Tel Aviv won the World Smart Cities Award at Barcelona’s Smart City Expo World Congress, trumping over 250 other cities bidding for the title, mainly due to its flagship Digi-Tel platform, a residents’ membership club and app that provides individually tailored, location-specific information and services.

The platform creates a direct connection between the city and its residents, providing services ranging from neighborhood roadworks alerts to discounts, offers and information based upon individual interests.

The award recognized the White City’s initiative in undergoing what Mayor Ron Huldai hailed as a “digital revolution.”

The city’s efforts to position itself as the Startup City also included opening up municipal databases to the public in an attempt to increase transparency, as well as offering free WiFi throughout the city – even at the beach.

The municipality is hosting the Tel Aviv Cities Summit starting on Monday as part of the DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Conference which runs till September 29. The summit will host entrepreneurs, researchers and heads of cities worldwide who will discuss the challenges their cities face, technologies for smart cities and how to build a successful startup ecosystem in cities globally, and the challenges of immigration.

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