Project Update: The Results of the Smart America Challenge

County Executive Ike Leggett led the Montgomery County SmartAmerica “team” in making a presentation to senior White House staff and policy advisors and industry executives as Montgomery County unveiled its achievements in the SmartAmerica Challenge.

The SmartAmerica Challenge is sponsored by The White House Presidential Innovation Fellows and the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST).

This prestigious initiative brought together different sectors to demonstrate innovative cyber technology pilot projects with the potential for enhancing socio-economic benefits for our residents, creating jobs in our communities, and promoting new business opportunities throughout America. The video that was presented at the White House can be viewed here:


One of the primary goals of any local government is to ensure a safe environment for residents. We even take special steps to protect our vulnerable residents whether they are elderly, young, disabled, or just simply need extra help. To do this we invest in first responders that come to the aid of our residents in need. These calls for assistance have historically been just that, manually initiated phone calls. In the past decade the rise of wifi-enabled sensors and broadband have replaced manual alerts with automated calls to dispatchers. This is an often overlooked chasm in the digital divide. Until now this extra level of safety was only available to those who were able to afford it. It would not be feasible for the government to provide connected safety alerts in the homes of individual residents without unsustainable cost, until now.

The SCALE network demonstrated our ability to extend a connected safe home to everyone at a low incremental cost. Using advanced sensor and receiving technology, an elderly, home-bound resident would no longer need to fear a fall. Families would no longer fall victim to a smoke detector with a dead battery. Using a variety of connection methods, including ultra narrow band and mesh networks, SCALE showed that the public sector can create an automated safety alert and community awareness network that protects vulnerable populations. This network does not rely on the resident’s ability to pay for broadband or even require them to have a land line. Sensors can be deployed and connected to first responders thus creating a safer environment for residents and economic opportunity for businesses that might build, deploy, and maintain these devices.

How it Works

Working with the Montgomery Housing Partnership, an affordable housing developer in Montgomery County, Maryland, SCALE deployed a variety of connected sensors that can detect different environmental factors. These factors will include but are not limited to: smoke, heat, light, carbon monoxide, humidity, power, acoustics, and even if a resident falls. These sensors will connect to gateways in a manner that does not rely on private broadband or a manual intervention by the resident. Most sensors will connect through either an ultra narrow band frequency or a mesh network. In the case of the ultra narrow band connected sensors, the sensors relayed a signal to an antenna on the roof of the Executive Office Building. This low power frequency also has a very long battery life, often lasting for many years. For sensors requiring more bandwidth, a mesh network was also deployed. These sensors accessed a gateway in the building or used other sensors as a relay to the nearest gateway. So a total of two cyber-physical systems was deployed to demonstrate this concept.

When a signal is sent from a sensor the data was quickly transmitted to a cloud service. In this cloud the data is then paired up with other data that helps identify the individual in distress and their location. The system sends a signal via an automated message to a mobile device. If there is no response or the resident confirms the emergency, an alert is sent to a caretaker and/or emergency dispatchers. SCALE also contributes to resiliency, as the sensors provide a multi-function, ubiquitous sensing capability and infrastructure that could result in many uses other than an emergency.

The Team

The SCALE team consists of public and private sector organizations, including start-ups and non-profits. The team currently consists of IBM, SigFox, MIT, UC-Irvine, Senseware, Twilio, World Sensing, Montgomery Housing Partnerships, and Montgomery County, MD.

Councilmember Hans Riemer, whose discussions with Montgomery County technology leaders led him to ask the county to participate in the challenge, said, “Montgomery County’s tech team has done a remarkable job crafting a public sector vision for the Internet of Things through its entry in the SmartAmerica Challenge. I look forward to building more partnerships with private sector tech leaders to better position our county as a national innovation hub.”

Next steps are still being determined for SCALE. The Innovation Program expects to provide an update at some point this summer.