Small and Smart

Cochrane’s Smart Cities Challenge proposal.

Cochrane is developing a proposal for the Smart Cities Challenge – and are unlocking a new identity in the process. The historic ranching town is reinventing itself as an incubator for tech start-ups and a test sight for innovative smart infrastructure. 

The Smart Cities Challenge is an Infrastructure Canada competition that will give four winning communities funding to implement smarter technologies and practices. There is one prize of $5 million for communities with populations under 30,000, two $10,000 prizes for communities with populations under 500,000, or a $50 million prize for any community.

Because its population is under 30,000, Cochrane is eligible to compete in all three award categories. 

Becoming a Tech Hub
Cochrane Mayor Jeff Genung says Cochrane is well positioned to become a North American tech innovation incubator. 

The town is already home to technology companies including Garmin and 4iiii Innovations. It also has an existing 5.8-km fibre optic network, a low-cost, high-speed internet connection that relies on light instead of electricity. This network, which the town intends to expand, is the backbone for many of the town’s smart infrastructure plans. 

To get inspiration for the Smart Cities Challenge, Genung and Cochrane chief administrative officer Dave Devana attended the Consumer Electronics Conference in Las Vegas in January 2018. There, Genung and Devana visited an entire trade floor displaying smart cities technologies. They also introduced themselves to some of the 900 start-up tech companies in attendance. 

“We spent time going to each booth to ask them what it would take for them to move to another community,” Genung says. “We found that Cochrane actually has a lot of the boxes that they were looking to check.” 

What boxes do start-up tech companies want to check?

  • Highly educated work force
  • High per-capita income 
  • Connectivity

Genung says he’d like to see Cochrane become a tech leader in North America. “I’d like to be a Silicon Valley North, with tech companies competing to be here and all kinds of technologies being built here,” he says. The town’s Smart Cities Challenge proposal includes an Innovators Incubator Centre in Cochrane’s downtown core.

New Ideas for Cochrane
Dave Devana presented Smart City Challenge ideas to the Town Council on January 22, including:

  • Sensor technology to reduce traffic congestion and improve pedestrian safety.
  • Charging stations for electric vehicles.
  • An interactive parks and pathways network with sensors that assist with wayfinding
  • Sensors to improve the efficiency of sanitation, monitor air quality and alert the town to flood hazards.
  • Solar-ready developments.
  • Efficient LED lighting with dimming technology.

Genung hopes the initiative will encourage everyone to look at local issues through a “smart city” lens.

A Town Effort

Devana says the Cochrane Council may have initiated the Smart Cities Challenge bid, but it’s the citizens who will shape the strategy. The proposal team is leading a public engagement effort to involve residents and school districts in the Smart Cities Challenge. 

 “It’s exciting to think about. That’s what this whole initiative is about—shifting people’s thinking.”

- Jeff Genung, Mayor of Cochrane

Many residents and members of the private sector have emailed the Council to say they want to contribute. Cochrane students are already pitching ideas for the transit system, including a bus-tracker app and electronic payments. “The students are very excited to be involved,” Devana says

Small Size Means Big Potential
Genung says many Cochrane residents believe their town could beat cities like Toronto and Vancouver for the $50 million Smart Cities Challenge award. In fact, Cochrane’s relatively small size may give the town a competitive advantage when it comes to implementing smart ideas. 

 “Technology companies are looking for communities like ours where they could do pilot projects. They could easily do that in Cochrane.”

- Jeff Genung, Mayor of Cochrane'

Some of the companies Genung and Devana met at the Consumer Electronics Conference said they were looking for places to pilot new technologies.

According to Genung, Cochrane would make an excellent site for a test project like that. 

The town’s small size makes it easy to install or de-install experimental infrastructure. “If you want to, say, change all the light standards, you want to do it in a contained space,” Genung says. “We could do our entire community. It’s easy for us — we’re nimble.”

At the Consumer Electronics Conference, Genung and Devana were introduced to “Olli,” a self-driving electric bus. Its manufacturer, Local Motors, is seeking test sites for the system. “They are looking for communities like ours where they could do pilot projects. They could easily do that in Cochrane,” Genung says.

Building the “Wired West”
Cochrane’s leaders believe that pursuing innovative new technologies will shape a new “Wired West” identity for the town. “We’re proud of our roots, but we’re excited to embark on something new,” Genung says

Devana says regardless of whether or not the proposal earns a grant for Cochrane, going through the process has been positive for the town. 

“We haven’t heard a negative thing yet. Everybody’s going in the same direction. We feel like there’s no way we can lose,” he says.

Calgary is entering the Smart Cities Challenge, too, and you can be part of it. Share your challenge statement before March 5, 2018.

February 23rd, 2018
Updated: March 28th, 2018

The small town of Cochrane is embracing a “Wired West” identity and preparing a Smart Cities Challenge proposal.