Projects to Support Local Businesses and Teach History Impress Fairfax County in Smart City Challenge

Victory came in different forms for the winners of Fairfax County’s first-ever Smart City Challenge.

Organized by the nonprofit Smart City Works and the McLean-based technology hub Refraction, the month-long virtual competition asked participants to develop projects that use innovative technology to address societal issues, such as housing, education, public health, and broadband access.

The challenge launched on Jan. 23 and concluded last Thursday (Feb. 25) with a live event where 11 finalist teams pitched their projects to a panel of judges that selected winners based on the innovation, impact, equity, and feasibility of their ideas.

The six judges, including Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn and Refraction CEO Esther Lee, ultimately named five winners of the overall competition:

  • Autonomous Incident Response System: an incident response system that uses 911 geolocation and drones to improve public safety response times and reduce uses of force and casualties
  • Databuoy: a gunfire detection system integrated with drones to decrease law enforcement response times to shooting incidents
  • TRAXyL: optical fiber “painted” onto existing pavement to deliver high-speed broadband services
  • VIA: an artificial intelligence assistant that guides people with vision loss
  • Haven (student team): a wastewater analysis system that uses data to improve nutrition and address food insecurity

According to a press release, the winning teams each received $12,000 in cash, $10,000 in Amazon Web Services credits, seven months of free membership at Refraction, and free access to entrepreneurship programs at George Mason University.

VIA and Haven also won the two People’s Awards, which were voted on by the audience. Haven won a third award from Smart City Works, which invited the student team and the cybersecurity team Onclave Networks to participate in its accelerator program.

In addition, Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax are planning to pursue pilot projects with two teams each.

Alcorn announced on Thursday that the county will work with KnishKits, an online marketplace that lets local businesses reach customers directly without having to pay a third-party platform, and History Through AR, which was not one of the finalist teams.

Pitched by the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, History Through AR utilizes augmented reality technology as a tool for historical tourism. The team is specifically interested in telling the story of West Ford, a freed slave who founded Gum Springs, the oldest African American community in Fairfax County.

Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives Director Rebecca Moudry says Knish Kits stood out as an option to assist businesses as they try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the county is “exploring possibilities” with History Through AR to raise awareness and enhance access to local historical sites.

“Fairfax County is excited to continue to build on the success of the Smart Cities challenge,” Moudry said in a statement. “We are so impressed with the talent and ideas that have come forward that we want to capture some of that entrepreneurial lightning.”

Fairfax City selected Engage ARt and the student team WISE Cities as its pilot project winners.

According to Lee, the challenge drew about 500 participants, either as competitors or as attendees of the eight online panels held throughout the past month.

“The inaugural Smart City Challenge has proven that we have great innovative minds in our region working on the most pressing challenges in our communities,” Lee said. “We were overwhelmed by the many creative and powerful solutions we received…We can’t wait to host an even more impactful Challenge next year.”

Full descriptions of the Smart City Challenge winners and their submitted video pitches can be found on the initiative’s website.

Image via Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation/YouTube

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