In a debut competition, expo, and hackathon, the Israeli city of Ramat Gan – which borders Tel Aviv – featured 41 startups creating smart city solutions
Because smart cities rely on innovative communication and information technologies, it’s no surprise that there are tons of great smart city apps coming out of Israel.
Ramat Gan intends to be the first fully integrated smart city in Israel and hosted a smart city expo, competition, and hackathon on November 8 called “Smart City Ramat Gan” to start this process. Requirements for participation were to develop an app, site, or a technological solution that would help promote residents’ welfare or improve the quality of municipal services. Held at the beautiful Yahalom Theater in the heart of downtown Ramat Gan, the event featured an exposition of 41 presenters promoting their technologies. From crowd sourcing for elder care to resident engagement, from parking management to flexible fuel engines, the expo was an opportunity to engage with the inventors and entrepreneurs and really understand the value each product offered.
Milgam, a comprehensive service provider for billing, water, and parking for government authorities of all kinds, sponsored the event. Tomi Deutsch, the Managing Director of Milgam’s Smart City program, said that because they are viewed as the connectors to municipalities, solution providers such as smart city app companies could benefit from working with Milgam to avoid dealing directly with the complicated local governments.
The competition featured lightning fast pitches of 1.5 minutes for each of the 10 contestants. RePark won the 100,000 NIS first place prize and will also get to do a pilot in Ramat Gan. The runners up in the competition were social responsibility platform Vitalitix and virtual, educational game The Islands.
Afterwards, the five high school teams that participated in the hackathon energetically presented their pitches for solar-powered bike locking stations that charge electric bikes, a social platform for business-sponsored marketing events, and an app for building a network of location-dependent volunteers. The youngsters brought great energy to the hackathon, screaming and cheering wildly for their peers, and it was clear they’d invested a lot of thought and effort in to creating their app ideas. A panel of judges deliberated on both the competition and the hackathon while the witty lecturer Dr. Haim Shapira of TEDx Jaffa entertained the crowd.
The winner of the high school hackathon was Maziz Li (meaning “I Care”), an app for improving municipal service centers and prioritizing complaints from residents, while ranking resident preferences on various issues. This app was surprisingly similar to the competition app CommonSense (ZenCity), which did not win.
If you understand Hebrew, you can check out the high school teams that participated in the hackathon in this video.
Beyond the 10 companies that participated in the competition, I also appreciated the following exhibitors:
1. Accessible? – This app provides robust, searchable accessibility information for disabled people. It is multilingual and depends on both municipality and citizen-driven information for its accuracy. I particularly liked this app because it also includes an employment model that pays citizens to report on accessibility.
2. Radgreen Environmental Monitoring – This system identifies radiation, gas, and air pollutant irregularities in real-time. This app is different from the other well known Israeli air monitoring company Breezometer because it is geared towards indoor spaces. As we spend so much time indoors, I believe this is a crucial technology to which many of us should have access.
3. Talkitt – This innovative app from Voiceitt uses sophisticated voice recognition software to help people with speech disabilities use their voice to communicate. It creates a personalized speech aid system that stores a bank of commonly used words. This app has the potential to be a real game changer for family and caregivers of people with speech impairments and disabilities.
4. MyEasyDocs – This program is the first clearinghouse for sharing certified documents. Official entities such as banks or universities issue authenticated documents to a user who accesses them via a cloud-based storage system. The user can then manage and securely share documents with others. I thought this app was brilliant because transferring official documents is always an expensive headache. It even includes a model for the document issuer to make money.
The full list of competition participants
1. RePark – This social parking app aims to create parking solutions for drivers by using existing parking spots. Parking space owners rent their unused spots by the hour, and the app allows drivers to locate, access, and pay for the spaces. This brilliant idea is a win-win for both parties and particularly for the driver who saves time and fuel and a reduction in frustration.
2. Vitalitix – This crowd sourcing app for the management of elder care was helps caretakers and family members stay connected to their loved one in times of crisis and sources volunteers from an existing network to help out. It also acts as a record keeping system and as a means for three way communication between the elder and other parties. Assuming the elder has a smart phone, the interface is simple to use. As a daughter of a baby boomer who is a geriatric social worker, this was one of my favorite apps because it was clear there is huge value to it.
3. The Islands – This is a beta stage virtual game for students. Connecting with children’s lesson plans, it motivates them to do their homework and practice material taught during the school day. I thought the graphics weren’t very sophisticated, and I think this concept could be more fine tuned, for example, to focus on games tailored for students with learning disabilities.
4. eTree – This product is a tree-like structure whose shade-providing canopy is solar panels. The energy generated from it provides Wi-Fi, charges USBs, and powers a water fountain, or it can feed back to the grid. It offers a space to sit and relax, its design can be altered, the solar panel glass can be customized, and it’s safe for children as there are no open sockets. This was my favorite concept overall because it embodies the message of sustainability as accessible via a useful and unique product.
5. CommonSense (ZenCity) – This “citizens’ information center” uses a social media platform for citizens to rate the city issues they want addressed the most (such as fixing broken street lights) and sends this information to the local government so they can take action towards ameliorating the highest ranked issue. This is similar to a streamlined version of an existing system in New York City. I’m not sure that citizen pressure would encourage a municipality to take action here, though.
6. Foodonet – This app is a platform for community members, restaurants, and farmers to avoid food waste by sharing spare food and creating a new market for leftover produce. I love this idea because it avoids waste and is the true representation of a shared economy.
7. GoTime – A cloud-based queue management system, this app allows you to secure a place in line at the post office or will alert you if your doctor is running late for your appointment so you do not waste time waiting. The creators are focusing on the British, who interestingly have a reputation for civilized queuing.
8. Shimeba – Think of this app as the Google Maps for inside large buildings or complexes, such as hospitals or stadiums. This wayfinding navigation system for indoor and outdoor venues maps a city’s points of interest into one experience of city exploring. They even provide information on the best access routes for disabled people. As I always get lost in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center, I was pleased to learn that Shemeba is the official wayfinding app for the shopping mall.
9. SmartBus – This app aims to be the private mass transit market version of Uber. Without owning any vehicles, the app efficiently connects customers with shuttle and bus providers and their drivers. It is an environmentally friendly way to save money for users and make money for drivers and fleet owners because it helps ensure vehicles run more routes on full capacity instead of empty. This was one of my favorite ideas from the evening; it seems so logical and is such a simple way to use large vehicles more efficiently.
10. So in Fit – This social media app supporting the gym community helps people find perfect workout partners, trainers, and provides real-time updates. Its goal is to engage and motivate fellow members of a fitness club towards health and wellness. For those who are resistant to gyms or need a boost of support, this app could help people stay committed to their fitness goals.
The views expressed are of the author.
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