Amazon Web Services’ latest innovation lab finds home at ASU

The Smart City Cloud Innovation Center will attempt to solve civic challenges in the Phoenix metro area with AI and cloud technology.
canopy at the SkySong Center, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center
A canopy at the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center (Archiexpo)

Amazon Web Services has announced its third university-based innovation lab — formally called a cloud innovation center, or CIC — will be a collaboration with Arizona State University to address digital transformation across the metropolitan Phoenix area.

The new CIC, dubbed the “Smart City CIC,” will be initially housed in ASU’s SkySong innovation center in Scottsdale, Arizona, and staffed by a mix of AWS and ASU employees, the organizations announced on Thursday. Together, those employees will research the problems Phoenix and other Arizona urbanities face in becoming smarter cities — “autonomous vehicle governance, health care management, urban resilience and a host of education-related challenges,” according to John Rome, deputy chief information officer at ASU.

A host of ASU researchers, students and faculty are expected to share the center with community leaders and industry representatives when it opens in early 2019. The university is used to being on the cutting edge of innovation; its president, Michael Crow, has put forth a “spare no expense” plan for improving the university’s technological prowess in the classroom and in research. One of the center’s early focuses could be on the most traditional smart city project, though: network-connected streetlights.

“We’ll standardize the processes and data collection from streetlight sensors so that city planners can integrate information from individual communities to formulate possible regionwide implementation plans,” explained Rome. “The same processes can be used to address a wide range of regional issues as cities begin to incorporate IoT technologies into the infrastructure.”


AWS and ASU have partnered before on IoT-centric initiatives. Last year, the company donated 1,600 Amazon Echo Dots, which are small, internet-connected voice-activated personal assistants to engineering students at the university. The students who received them came up with different skills and uses for the technology, such as informing them how many washers were unused in the laundry room or reciting the daily menu of the dining hall. The new leg of the partnership is expected to have a much greater impact on public-sector institutions within Phoenix, but the focus on artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud computing will remain.

“This new CIC provides a model for public-sector digital transformation not just in Greater Phoenix, but in communities around the globe,” said Teresa Carlson, vice president of worldwide public sector for AWS in a statement.

The CIC will move to ASU’s Novus Innovation corridor in downtown Tempe, Arizona, when permanent space is available, according to the statement. It’ll join the Digital Transformation Hub at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo, California, and the Busan-Amazon Cloud Innovation Center at Dongseo University’s Centum campus in Busan, South Korea, as a civic tech-based lab with university and private-sector support.

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