It pays to be first. Being the launch city for Google Fiber, has moved Kansas City to the front of the line in the innovation economy. Thanks to super-fast consumer Internet service (and now commercial service too), the Midwestern city has seen a wealth of good tech news.
Earlier this month at South by Southwest, Shinra Technologies announced that Kansas City would be the first city in the U.S. to test its new supercomputer-powered gaming platform. Based in New York, Shinra offers server technology that allows computers with relatively little power to take part in massive multiplayer games. One day, the platform will allow smartphone users to interact with the same game as someone on a PlayStation at home. It’s a profound shift that the company’s founder, Yoichi Wada, says will create a new genre of games. Thanks to Google Fiber, Kansas City will get a first taste of the experience.
“The purpose of the technical beta is to test … the infrastructure we are deploying in the United States,” Jacob Navok, a Shinra senior vice president, explains. “That was the reason we chose Google Fiber; when we did initial alpha tests in the fall in several cities, the connection in Kansas City was fantastic.”
Meanwhile, in civic technology, Cisco is setting up a public-private partnership effort linked to Kansas City’s coming 2.2-mile streetcar line. Ashley Z. Hand, K.C.’s first chief innovation officer (and Next City Vanguard alum), says Google Fiber put the city on Cisco’s radar.
While the company and the city have not finalized terms for the project, which was announced last May, Hand explains that it will be the largest Smart+Connected Communities venture in North America, using free public Wi-Fi, community information kiosks, and video camera sensors to gather and make use of an enormous amount of data. The second facet of the project will be a kind of data lab, where entrepreneurs can tap into the information collected and try out ways to make useful applications.
The “smart cities” notion has its skeptics, and Hand says that this set of tools is so new that uncertainties about return on investment make it unlikely that government could ever justify the expense to build it alone. By attracting Cisco early, K.C. was able to mitigate costs somewhat. If it turns out that the return is solid, the city will have gotten a better deal while again beating other places to an important technology. Meanwhile, Cisco and Google may also partner so that those piles of data can move around faster.
Google Fiber also influenced Kansas City Power and Light’s plans to build 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations around the city. The utility’s Chuck Caisley says that watching Google’s rollout inspired the company to move much faster.
“We saw how catalytic a big bang could be with Google,” he says. Utilities are known to move slowly, but after watching how much buzz Google made by going fast, encouraging competition between neighborhoods and fostering engagement, KCP&L changed its plans, moving to get stations up in less than one year. Rolling out that number of stations in a city with no EV infrastructure in that little time is a big shift.
Inspired by the way Google surveyed residents, KCP&L also decided to reach out to locals about where they would like to see charging stations. The utility had done a lot of research already, in terms of finding electrical vehicles and surveying sites, and has a roll-out plan. But it saw how Google got people excited by asking for input and so it asked too. Caisley says they will take feedback seriously if they hear from people about preference for one station site over another.
Meanwhile, AT&T just announced that it would be matching Google Fiber in speed and price in K.C., so not only does the city have some of the fastest Internet speeds, but healthy provider competition too. More than 1,000 cities sought the nod from Google to become a Fiber city, and the benefits of getting chosen have run much deeper into the region’s economy than the ability to download movies faster than family and friends in St. Louis.