A coalition of technology giants, spearheaded by Uncle Sam himself, are putting the Internet of Things to good use in a global challenge to improve quality of life and economic growth in selected cities around the world.
This effort was kick-started in 2013 as the SmartAmerica Challenge, and expanded this summer into a broader effort under the Global City Teams Challenge banner. Last year's project led to fundamental research and investments in self-driving cars, intelligent healthcare management, hyper-optimized heating and air conditioning systems, and much more. Some of these ideas are moderate improvements on existing systems; others are billion-dollar game changers or entirely new fields of study.
The common thread between these seemingly incompatible projects is simple: Apply networked technology to collect and process data, then act on the analysis. That's exactly what the Internet of Things is all about, which is why these "challenges" serve as a useful reminder of where the new technology is taking us.
To make this happen, a dream team of technology leaders joins forces with government agencies like the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Health and Human Services. The government's involvement shortens the path to official funding for successful ideas born at the challenges, though there's no guarantee any project will see government funding.
Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) and QUALCOMM (NASDAQ:QCOM), among others, are on hand to help building the networking platforms needed to bring these data-powered improvements to life. Unsurprisingly, four of the nine corporate partners happen to be network specialists. This makes sense for a network-centric approach to the "smarter cities" challenge.
And of course, Internet of Things thought leaders IBM (NYSE:IBM) and General Electric (NYSE:GE) can provide invaluable guidance based on years of experience in making the Internet of Things work. Both of these multi-talented titans have invested heavily into Internet of Things research and are betting on this product category to provide real-world business.
None of these companies are in the challenge out of the goodness of their hearts, of course. If IBM and Intel figure out how to improve water distribution with sensor-studded pipelines across Brazilian slums, you can bet they will commercialize and profit from the invention.
The business partners are simply looking to get a leg up on the most promising Internet of Things ideas for large-scale implementation on a global level. The positive karma benefits from making the world a better place? Oh, nobody's complaining about those.
The Internet of Things is poised to change the world in ways both large and small. The Global City Teams Challenge is but a small piece of that giant puzzle, but a worthwhile one nonetheless. And the companies that are taking part in it serve as an excellent list of starting points for investors with an interest in this rising megatrend.
Anders Bylund owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Cisco Systems and Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company, Intel, International Business Machines, and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.