How is Israel leading the way in smart-city tech?

Foreign investors and mayors are increasingly clamoring for Israeli-developed technologies in urban waste, water and traffic management.

THE TEL AVIV skyline (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE TEL AVIV skyline
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Start-Up Nation just got a new moniker: Start-Up Cities.
More than eighty municipal delegations from around the world will converge on Tel Aviv later this month for the Muni-Expo Urban Innovation conference – meant to highlight smart-city technologies.
It is a sign that foreign investors and mayors are increasingly clamoring for Israeli-developed technologies in urban waste, water and traffic management; from using smartphone app Waze for navigating traffic to relying on local cybersecurity tools.
“It’s exciting to see the amount of Israeli tech around smart cities,” said Eyal Feder-Levy, ZenCity CEO and co-founder, a start-up which helps aggregate and analyzes public feedback via artificial intelligence.
“It’s not a traditional Israeli market. We don’t have major cities here, no mega-metropolises. But I think this is becoming one of the most technological trends of the decade and Israel is fast becoming a leader in this. We’re leveraging our infrastructure and security technology,” he said.
The market for smart-city technologies could be worth more than $1.5 trillion by 2020, according to a study by business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.
That could provide Israeli smart city start-ups with lucrative opportunities, such as installing sensors on streetlights – to turn them off when not in use – or collect garbage based on when the bin gets full.
“We save more than NIS 2 million a year on the new system with collecting garbage,” said Haim Bibas, mayor of Modi’in and the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel chairman.
“We’re using sensors and the sensor is part of the garbage truck and the garbage can,” Bibas told The Jerusalem Post. “And they count every can. And if [the bin] is empty, the collection services are reduced. If it’s not empty, we pick it up more.”
Other Israeli startups are developing smart parking tools and devising the cybersecurity tools to protect the emerging municipal “Internet of Things” infrastructure.
Start-up ZenCity, which will present at the upcoming smart city conference, along with 150 companies, helps city officials to sift through mounds of data and messages, alerting them to problems and crafting a response.
“We use advanced technology to understand; what are the key things people care about in the city,” asked Feder-Levy. “And then we share that with local government.”
The company relies on AI and machine learning to automatically analyze feedback, whether it be on social media or via email. It’s a 21st-century version of the 311 public feedback phone line, as ZenCity shares the data back through a dashboard with city managers.
Residents most often complain about potholes and obstructed sidewalks – leading some of their client municipalities to remove trash cans and tow vehicles which were parked on the sidewalk.
“It’s the essence of what smart-city technology is about,” said Feder-Levy. “It’s about collecting and analyzing data in the city to make it more efficient and effective and to provide better services.”
Locally, a trending topic according to ZenCity has been the “Supermarkets Law,” which could force the closure of many restaurants and entertainment centers on Shabbat.
ZenCity’s data also shows that many residents have complained about new bicycle regulations which bar bicyclists from pedaling on the sidewalk. Municipalities across the country have given out tickets in response.
Based in Tel Aviv, ZenCity was founded in 2015 and employs some 18 people. The company is working with ten cities in Israel, the US and France, including a pilot program with the City of San Francisco.
The Muni-Expo International Conference will be held on February 13 and 14 at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds.