ASU, Amazon Web Services open Smart City Cloud Innovation Center

ASU campus-based center will address regional challenges using AWS Cloud


Arizona State University - Amazon Web Services Smart City CIC

ASU's Smart City Cloud Innovation Center, a collaboration with Amazon Web Services, opened Monday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house in its SkySong location. From left: AWS Director Ann Merrihew, ASU Vice President for Research Cynthia Sagers, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane and AWS Global Head of Cloud Innovation Centers Ben Butler. Photo by Maggie Rome/ASU

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Arizona State University and Amazon Web Services (AWS) on Monday launched the ASU Smart City Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) Powered by AWS, an initiative that focuses on building smarter communities in the Phoenix metropolitan area by using AWS Cloud to solve pressing community and regional challenges.

Located at ASU’s SkySong location in Scottsdale, the new center is part of a long-term collaboration between ASU and AWS to improve digital experiences for smart-city designers, expand technology alternatives while minimizing costs, spur economic and workforce development and facilitate sharing public-sector solutions within the region.

“What ASU has done here is not only build a process and a means of communicating so that all know what others are doing, but they’ve also raised the bar, insisted on the highest standards, and said we will invent and simplify here,” said Ann Merrihew, director of AWS.

“The thing that I love about what ASU is doing is that it starts from inside. It starts with how ASU cares about its students. There’s a lack of feeling that it’s got to be exclusive — everyone matters,” Merrihew said. “And then saying, it’s not just us on campus. We live in a city, we live in a county, we are part of a global universe, and what we learn we’re going to share.

“That’s the point of the CIC,” Merrihew continued. “This is what it is to be a global leader.”

During the ribbon-cutting event, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane addressed the ongoing partnership between city of Scottsdale, the ASU Foundation and ASU. 

“This particular project is absolutely the epitome of what we’ve wanted to see happen here — a collaborative effort with technology and innovation bringing about greater efficiency and quality of life for all of us within our community and beyond,” said Lane. “This is one of those great partnerships where we really do see us come together for the benefit of not only those in this room and community and state, but beyond.”

Ben Butler, AWS global head of CICs, addressed the ways his team will support the center as it works with local planners to reduce infrastructure costs, spur economic and workforce development and solve real-world challenges by applying emerging technologies on the AWS platform.

“The distinguishing factor between this and other AWS programs is that we’ll have dedicated staff working full time on-site, shoulder to shoulder with our ASU partners to address these change-the-world, think-big types of issues,” Butler said.

“Real-world challenges from various parts of the public sector and from within the university will be submitted to the CIC. We’ll combine public-sector knowledge of the community and its challenges with the expertise of ASU’s faculty, staff and students, and use AWS technologies to solve those challenges,” Butler said. “And we’ll do it using open-source software — we’ll share the solutions and prototypes we create with other communities facing the same challenges.”

The Phoenix metro area is one of the fastest-growing regions in the U.S., according to Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, noting that demographically, the region also has the sixth-youngest market in the entire U.S.

“But that’s not enough,” Camacho said. “The convergence of innovation at scale with the multidisciplinary focus of this university, combined with our ability to solve the significant challenges with solutions born here, is critically important.

“What I can tell you that’s distinctive about this region is that we truly do work together for the benefit of our citizenry.”

According to Lev Gonick, ASU’s chief information officer, the CIC is a north star for greater Phoenix and Maricopa County.

“But it also has a broader context,” Gonick said. “Because we very much know that the question of how to use technology to advance the quality of life and resilience of the community is not ours alone. It’s a global challenge.

“This is the New American University. The CIC enables us to bring everything that we have as part of our mission and around our research, combining student engagement and community visions, powered by AWS and its resident staff, to advance the vision of a connected place.”

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