Meet the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Technology Pioneers

Every year since 2000, the World Economic Forum has chosen 25 to 50 startups as Technology Pioneers. To be selected, companies must be developing exceptional innovations and have the potential to bring about long-term changes to business and society.  This year’s class includes LivingPlanIT, a European company that is developing an operating system for cities of the future

Living PlanIT is building a smart city in Paredes in northern Portugal to serve as a kind of living lab for evolving sustainable urban technology–a  market that is estimated to be worth $3 trillion over the next 20 years.

 The Swiss company is using the site in Portugal to develop and test an urban operating system which aims to effectively do  what Windows did for personal computers: create a widely-addressable and adoptable platform for cities which will attract a healthy ecosystem of users. The technology is being developed in partnership with some 300 partners, including Cisco and Microsoft, and will be licensed to cities around the world.

The goal is to make cities smarter, cleaner and more economically viable by meeting the needs of residents, city workers, developers , service providers and governments, says Living PlanIt CEO and cofounder Steve Lewis, (pictured on Informilo’s home page), a former Microsoft executive.“This is not just about technology, says Lewis.  “It is the joined- up thinking that really matters .”

Like LivingPlanetIt , a number of the World Economic Forum’s 2012 tech pioneers  are focusing on having a social impact, while revolutionizing the business paradigms in their industries, says Olivier Schwab, head of the technology pioneers program at the World Economic Forum. (Scroll to the bottom of the page for the full list of the 2012 tech pioneers and to see Informilo’s coverage of the 2011, 2010 and 2009 tech pioneers).

More than 470 companies have been recognized as Tech Pioneers over the past decade, including some that went on to huge success, such as Google, PayPal, Mozilla Corporation and Twitter. Approximately 60% are still independent and 20% — including and Admob –have been acquired by industry leaders.

 The identification of the Technology Pioneer companies is the result of a rigorous selection process.  The Forum received hundreds of applications from around the world. The companies were evaluated by over 50 global technology experts, including Informilo editor-in-chief Jennifer L. Schenker.  Some 18 of the 25 companies selected this year are American. But LivingPlanIt underscores how innovations developed outside the U.S. are increasingly being used to address global problems.

 One-half of the world’s population has already migrated to cities and environmental problems are being compounded as millions more seek to move to urban areas in search of a middle class life. In China alone, 350m people – more than the current population of the United States – will move to cities by 2030, according to the consulting group McKinsey. This is prompting governments to create new cities from scratch. The only way to prevent rapid urbanization from being an environmental disaster is to operate cities in a  smarter and cleaner way , says Ayesh Khanna, Director of the London-based Hybrid Reality Institute, a research and advisory think-tank focused on technology trends. 

 Today’s cities can barely handle the burden of their current populations: core services like energy, water, communications, transportation, and public safety are wasteful and inefficient. For example, there isn't enough clean drinking water to go around, yet an estimated 25% to 30% of treated water is lost through leaks in aging distribution networks. Such losses cost water utilities an estimated $14 billion annually, according to the World Bank. Israel start-up TaKaDu, a 2011 tech pioneer, makes smart data analysis software that can be used to detect leaks, breaks, and equipment failures in water systems, enabling utilities to respond more rapidly to problems and efficiently minimizing water loss.

Living PlanIT, which plans to set up a subsidiary in Silicon Valley in the coming months, is taking a wider approach to  sustainability, with the ambitious goal of helping cities not only become more green but also more economically viable and more attractive to residents.

 The demand is there: cities are more important than nation states in the 21st century,competing to become magnets for economic growth, says Khanna. Hence, the need to become  “smarter.”

A city becomes “smart” when all parts of its infrastructure and government services are digitally connected and optimized., explains Khanna. The city’s intelligent infrastructure is powered by three key technologies that share environment and citizen data constantly: sensors, the cloud and smart interfaces.  Sensors, tiny devices that can measure variables such as motion, sound, and bacteria, collect information and send it back to a central database  – the cloud. The city’s computing cloud then analyzes the information and changes the city in response to the input it has received.

 Residents can also change the city experience, tailoring it to themselves by entering their preferences in touch screen smart applications.  For example, says Khanna, if you’re feeling unwell, you could take your blood pressure at home, and the results will automatically be added to your health record, which is stored in digital format in the city’s cloud. If the blood pressure is at a dangerous level, your doctor is automatically paged, and soon, he appears on the Telepresence monitor in your apartment where he gives you a quick consultation.

Adding such layers of intelligence to the legacy systems of cities like New York, San Francisco and London will be slow and painful. However, new cities have no such constraints, notes Khanna. New smart cities include Songdo in South Korea, Masdar in Abu Dhaba and Lavasa in India; cities in planning stages include Skolkovo in Russia, King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia and  Meixi Lake and Wuxi in China.

 Khanna calls Living PlanIt a trailblazer since it appears to be the first to attempt to create a standard operating system that can be licensed by others.

Unlike the real estate developers driving other smart cities Living PlanIT's model is to create an ecosystem of large and small company partners that will focus on creating products and services for sustainable urbanization. The people that the partners bring in to produce those products and services will be the anchor occupants of the model city. The hope is that this activity will then attract other businesses and inhabitants.  If it succeeds, Living PlanIT will then apply this model to build other cities.

The market demand for intelligence services for retrofitting cities and building new ones is estimated at trillions of dollars.  Cisco, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Siemens, and Phillips, are all targeting the market as are a host of smaller players.

Lewis says LivingPlanIt’s decision to partner with Microsoft and Cisco will not limit the ability of other vendors to get involved.  Although Cisco is a partner, a city could opt, for example, to use Huawei routers, says Lewis. The idea is not to lock anybody in to using a particular type of technology but instead make it easier for lots of players to add new technologies and applications by standardizing the infrafrastructure from the start. “We want to reduce the cost of interoperability and radically change the cost of being able to deploy by  making it plug and play,” says Lewis.

LivingPlanetIT,  is also proactively taking steps to safeguard consumer privacy to counteract fears that the smart cities of the future will pave the way for an Orwellian future in which government monitors and controls every aspect of human life. The company is designing avatars that will allow consumers to retain control over who sees their information, says Lewis.

Living PlanIt has learned much in the last five years and will soon publish some of its findings, says Lewis. (The company has already been profiled in a Harvard Business School case study).  Still, “many questions need to be answered such as what the technology will mean for the well being of residents and how to think about new economic models,” says Lewis.  He expects LivingPlanIT to generate 1.5 billion in annual revenues by 2015.

In addition to LivingPlanetIT the 2012 Technology Pioneers include 1366 Technologies, Altobridge, Appirio, Attero Recylcing, Biocartis, CloudFlare, Diagnostics for All, DoubleVerify, Driptech, Dropbox, EcoMotors International, Electro Power Systems, Financial Inclusion Network and Operations, First Energy, Joule Unlmited, Kickstarter, Lending Club, Mocana, Palantir Technologies, Picarro, Protean Electric, Solazyme, Tabula Digita and Tehys BioScience. To read more about the 2012 Tech Pioneers click here.

To read Informilo’s coverage of the 2011 Technology Pioneers click here

To read Informilo’s coverage of the 2010 Technology Pioneers click here

To read Informilo’s coverage of the 20009 Technology Pioneers click here

To read Jennifer L. Schenker’s coverage of the 2008 Technology Pioneers in BusinessWeek click here






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