Learn about urban tech + smart cities, and win prizes in the first-ever BITS City Competition (aka Boston is the Smartest City)

Sponsored by the City of Boston (Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics), MIT, and the Local Sense Lab.

The winner has been announced! Congratulations to the Caroake team, including Omid Abari, Austin Duffield, Anubhav Jain, and Dina Katabi.

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Resources and Data Sets

Smart City RFI from City Hall

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BITS City Competition

The platform of the future isn’t a phone. It’s a place: Boston. The city is investing in new technologies, new applications, and new policies to make Boston smarter, friendlier, and more livable for everyone. But the city of the future needs citizen technologists, designers, and dreamers. That’s why we’re opening Boston to your apps, hardware, design, and policy innovations in the first-ever BITS City Competition (aka Boston Is The Smartest City). Form teams and solve problems in four challenge areas: Reappropriating Infrastructure, Waiting Places, Sensors in the City, and Other. Win your own "public key" to the city's API, bragging rights, and mentorship from the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Any undergraduate student, graduate student, postdoc, or faculty in the Boston-area is eligible to enter. For more details, see, or come to the kickoff on September 12, 12pm at the MIT Martin Trust Center. Applications open September 12, and are due September 25.

The winner has been announced! Congratulations to the Caroake team, including Omid Abari, Austin Duffield, Anubhav Jain, and Dina Katabi. Caraoke is a network of wireless sensors mounted on street poles throughout a city. By leveraging a novel radio technology and the e-toll transponders (EZ-Pass in Boston) that are already installed in most vehicles, Caraoke can count, localize, and identify vehicles on the road.

If you submitted an idea to BITS City (or thought about it), take a look at the new Smart City RFI from City Hall. It's due in late January to the city's supplier portal, and is the perfect next step for developing your smart city ideas. There's more work to be done in making Boston the smartest city, and we need your help!


A "Public Key" to Boston: there are sensors going up all over the city, and most will be accessible through public APIs. As one of the winners, you will get to set the API public key for a suite of sensors to whatever you want. For example, "Joe_schmo_is_the_bomb_111" or "Burritos_are_wonderful".

Plus you'll get free mentorship with City Hall and the Local Sense Lab, the opportunity to present your idea at the announcement event to city administrators, potential partners, and potential investors, plus other goodies.

Challenge areas

Reappropriating Infrastructure: in Boston, once-innovative “technologies” abound in underutilized states. From street furniture, to light boxes, to sidewalks, to signs, how can we repurpose existing urban infrastructure in new and creative ways?

Waiting Places: from a bus stop, to a subway station, to a cross walk, the city is full of “waiting rooms”: areas where there is nothing to do but wait, a strange type of public space where people seem encouraged to ignore each other and retreat into their phones or books. How do we revitalize these moments and spaces to be productive, delightful, or both?

Sensors in the City: as embedding sensors in urban environments becomes all the rage (not to mention cheaper and quicker than ever before), what new types, uses, or deployments of sensors have yet to be fully explore? How do we move beyond simply generating novel data with sensors, but translate that data into actionable civic interventions?

Other: of course there’s an “other” category! We truly want new exciting ideas on the table, and if there’s a smart city idea you’d like to propose for further study, submit it!


Impactful: does the project solve a specific problem, or generate meaningful information, or benefit a wide range of citizens?

Creative: how is the project different (and better) from previous alternatives? Be audacious. Imagine Boston in 2030, not just 2016.

Realistic: is the project do-able, whether commercially, technologically, or politically? We know things can be complicated. But tell us how you plan on overcoming the obstacles.

Collaborative: does the project interact with other projects (whether existing or proposed)? Don't make a better mousetrap. Do your research, and tap into what other makers have already built. Refer to this urban data workbook (from the BITS City Github repository) for a list of existing Boston smart cities startups, or go to the BITS City Google Group and form collaborations with other applicants!

Key dates

Kickoff: September 12, noon @ MIT Martin Trust Center (E40-160)

Applications open: September 12, noon

Office hours @ City Hall: TBA

Applications close: September 25, 11:59pm

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What roles could you play in a project team?