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SPOKANE, Wash. – Washington State University has joined with six private and public partners on a formal agreement to develop Spokane’s University District into a smart city living laboratory.

“We’re excited to be part of this group that is leading smart city innovations for healthier people, safer neighborhoods, smarter infrastructure and a more sustainable environment,” said Kim Zentz, director of WSU’s Engineering and Technology Management program, who is leading the project.

The group, which also includes Avista, the City of Spokane, Itron, McKinstry and the University District Development Association, has signed a memorandum of understanding. The partners will align efforts to create a living laboratory for the design of cities of the future in the 770-acre University District, which is located north of I-90 and east of Division Street adjacent to Spokane’s downtown core.

Improving urban health, safety, sustainability

The newly named initiative, called Urbanova, formalizes a more than two-year effort to harness data to gain insights, empower people and solve urban challenges in new ways. The living laboratory will operate on the principles of open architecture, standards-based open data and open analytics. The focus is upon solutions that are replicable, scalable and sustainable for cities of all types.

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Spokane University District.

“This collaborative partnership allows us to develop high impact integrated solutions to infrastructure and health challenges of our urban environments while improving the livability and workability of cities,” Zentz said.

“What’s unique about the Urbanova partnership is the intersection of universities—particularly in the area of health science—with private enterprise and municipal government toward improving quality of life (especially for the underserved),” said WSU Health Sciences Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown. “It’s almost an eagerness to cross traditional boundaries.

“This partnership is one of the many efforts in place to help Spokane catalyze the benefits of having transformational research conducted in its core,” she said.

The partnership is already involved in several smart city pilot projects, including a smart and connected streetlight project and a “Shared Energy Economy” model. In it, the partnering entities will share energy assets – from solar panels and battery storage to traditional utility assets – to improve system efficiency and grid resiliency.

Many areas for WSU research

WSU is also supporting a $1.5 million smart city research grant. WSU’s initiative, which got underway this summer, is developing a framework to monitor, predict and control energy and air quality in the urban environment and record resulting health impacts in the University District.

The project includes researchers in WSU’s Energy Systems Innovation Center, the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research and the Institute for Sustainable Design working with Urbanova partners. It initially calls for deploying a small network of air quality sensors in parallel with a smart and connected street lights pilot developed by Avista and Itron in the district.

Researchers in the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research will also be developing high resolution air quality modeling capabilities in the area, based on the lab’s AIRPACT air quality forecast system.

The project aims to establish WSU as a center for research and analytics in the design, engineering and application of smart systems that will serve and ensure healthy, resilient communities, said Anjan Bose, regents professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a WSU project co-leader.

“There are more and more people on the planet relying on urban infrastructure,” he said. “We can’t tear out and replace all of our infrastructure, but we have to increase its capability and make the most of the resources we have.”

Smart homes, smart energy use

WSU has a long history of work in smart environments. The Center for Advanced Studies in Adaptive Systems has been developing smart environment and smart home solutions since 2007. As part of a national effort to test new smart grid technologies, a group of WSU researchers worked with Avista Utilities on a five-year demonstration project to make Pullman the region’s first smart grid community.

Researchers in the Energy Systems Innovation Center are partnering with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Washington on a project to research, develop and demonstrate technologies to create smart buildings, campuses and cities to better manage energy use. The WSU team is installing photovoltaic modules on the Pullman campus and integrating them into WSU’s smart city test bed.

In the past year, students in the School of Design and Construction developed smart city design concepts for the University District, including ideas for interactive environments and data-driven decision making.

The research is in keeping with WSU’s Grand Challenges initiative stimulating research to address some of society’s most complex issues. It is particularly relevant to the challenge of “smart systems” and its theme of improving quality of life through smart and sustainable systems.