Indy Leaps to Head of Smart City Pack

There’s been quite a bit of talk during our current legislative session about addressing our state’s pressing infrastructure issues. And rightfully so, the adequate funding of Indiana’s roads and bridges is critical for a State that bills itself as “the Crossroads of America.”

What shouldn’t be overlooked in the conversation about asphalt and concrete is how quickly and quietly the Hoosier State now finds itself as a national leader in the infrastructure of the next century – smart city technology.

At an innovation event last week in the heart of Silicon Valley, AT&T announced that Indy will be one of the first two test markets in the country for its 5G wireless network. The improved technology will offer users peak speeds of 400 megabits per second, about four times faster than the current 4G technology.

But AT&T’s announcement means a lot more for Indy than just giving us faster download speeds for our favorite Netflix shows. The investment immediately puts Indy at the head of the pack in terms of the infrastructure necessary to support the sensors and hardware that makes smart city technology possible.

Then came today’s seismic announcement that Indy was selected from a field of 133 cities for a Readiness Challenge Grant from the Smart Cities Council. The grant will provide City leaders with unique programming, infrastructure, and resources to develop a roadmap for applying smart technologies. The result could be an explosion in smart city innovation and investment that improves the livability, workability, sustainability, and resiliency of the Circle City. Indy’s application focused on the areas of energy, transportation, water, and wastewater – all critical areas for the overall vibrancy of our community.

“The Smart Cities Council designation helps set the stage for Indianapolis to be a City of the future,” said Lauren Riga, Indy’s project lead for Smart Cities  “Innovative public private partnerships will continue to emerge as communities leap into the digital era to enhance city services and attract industries of the future.”

“There is tremendous momentum in Indy’s technology ecosystem,” said Bill Soards, President of AT&T Indiana. “Today’s announcement is further recognition that Indianapolis is embracing a smarter more sustainable future.”

Taken together, these developments provide the City of Indianapolis with a tremendous opportunity to shape the smart city conversation, not just locally but nationally, moving forward. The infrastructure and resources are now in place for the City to explore the full possibilities of smart infrastructure.

What innovative startups can leverage this new technology? What non-profits and community organizations can derive valuable data that could make Indy a healthier and safer place to call home? How can State and Local government use the new technology to find efficiencies, save resources, and deliver better constituent services?

Indy’s policy makers and tech community suddenly find themselves in the driver’s seat for the great infrastructure opportunity of the next century. Other cities and states will most certainly either look to us for leadership and to follow in our footsteps, or if we stand still, look to move past us.

Unequivocally, Indy is now a national leader in smart city technology. Let’s work to keep it that way.


Matt Kirby
Open Indy Brigade Co-Founder

Launching the Indy Idea Hub

Big communitywide challenges and transformative ideas. Indy’s best developer, data, and design talent hanging out in our coolest tech spaces. Elected officials and VIPs from every level of government. Indy’s civic innovation movement has certainly been good at generating excitement in the two years since its inception.

What we’ve been less good at is actually carrying solutions through to implementation. As it turns out, caffeine and pizza fueled hackathons aren’t the best environments when you want to develop a product that will go on to be deployed by a state agency or utilized en masse by the public. Too often the event’s collective work gets thrown out at the end of the weekend along with the boxes full of stale pizza.

To change that dynamic, the Open Indy Brigade is launching the Indy Idea Hub, an extended collaborative hackathon that will allow volunteer project teams to identify, develop, and pitch civic technology solutions over a three-month period. By removing the time constraints and competitive environment of a traditional hackathon, the Indy Idea Hub hopes to enable larger, more diverse teams to work in concert and deliver an end product more likely to achieve implementation.

What projects will Indy Idea Hub teams work on? Well, that’s up to you. The Open Indy Brigade is collecting project suggestions from the public now through July 31st. Ever have an idea for an app or a website that improves how the public engages with a state or city agency? Here’s your chance to make it a reality. Click here to submit your idea.

The top three concepts will be announced at the Indy Idea Hub Project Launch August 11th at the new downtown Speak Easy. Project leads will pitch the general concept and start building the teams that will develop solutions over the next three months. Project teams will pitch their final products at our November meetup.

So submit your ideas and join us August 11th to kick off this exciting new collaborative hack. Whether you are a content matter expert looking for an app developer or a data scientist looking for a public sector partner, we need your help to take civic innovation in Indy to the next level!

The Next Century’s Yard of Bricks

When the checkered flag flies at this weekend’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, you’ll likely see the winner climb out of his or her car and kneel down next to a 36-inch strip of bricks at the track’s start/finish line. The celebratory ‘kissing of the bricks’ is an homage to the race’s rich past.

For Indy’s community of innovators, its entrepreneurial technologists, and civic-minded advocates, it should also serve as inspiration.

When the Indy Chamber and TechPoint host the third annual Indy Civic Hack Day next weekend, Indy’s civic hackers would be well-served to take a few lessons from the Speedway. For starters, the fitting theme for this year’s Civic Hack is transportation, with data and challenges being provided by IndyGo and Pacers Bike Share.

But there’s an even deeper connection between Indy Civic Hack Day, the city’s marquee event celebrating civic innovation, and that famed Yard of Bricks. I’ll explain…

Think back to where the country was when Indy businessman Carl Fisher first dreamt up the Speedway in 1905. Automobiles were a brand new technology still out of the price range of most Americans. Roads were mostly dirt. Highways wouldn’t exist for another 50 years and most gasoline was sold in large drums by your neighborhood pharmacy or grocery store.

The thought of a race track allowing cars to travel 70 miles an hour for 500 miles in a single day would have seemed like futuristic fantasy. At a time when most travel involved a horse, people could not possibly have understood how an automobile race would drive innovation, revolutionize vehicle safety, and create economic opportunity for the state of Indiana over the next century.

Of course, all that innovation wouldn’t come easy. You could say the Speedway had a bit of a ‘rocky’ start. The first few races were run on a track comprised of dirt and gravel. Not surprisingly, those early drivers had to navigate dangerous potholes, ruts, and oh yeah – gravel flying at their faces! Safety concerns would push Fisher to pave the Speedway with bricks in 1909. Eventually segments of the track were covered in asphalt, and in 1961, the remaining sections were paved, leaving the Yard of Bricks as the only remnant of the track’s bumpy beginnings.

But those first few challenging years proved to be fertile ground for the experimentation that would eventually spawn transformative technology. The rearview mirror, the seatbelt, front-wheel drive, and the use of alternative fuels would all be birthed by innovators at Indy’s Speedway.

Fortunately, Fisher wasn’t looking at Indy as it was. He was looking at what Indy could be for the next hundred years. Fisher’s vision wasn’t just to test car engines. He wanted to create an economic engine that would make Indianapolis the center of automobile manufacturing in the world. To get there, he needed an event with enough pageantry to draw a big crowd, a competition that would push the boundaries of technology, and the physical infrastructure that would make it all possible.

Like Fisher’s vision to create a center for automotive manufacturing by building a race track, we see Indy Civic Hack Day as a catalyst to create an economic engine in Indiana fueled by civic data and technology.

2014 Indy Civic Hack Day at the Speak Easy.
2014 Indy Civic Hack Day at the Speak Easy.

How? Over the past two years, Indy Civic Hack Day has provided the pageantry to draw big crowds of the area’s best developer, data, and design talent. The competitive nature of the event provides attendees with the opportunity to push the boundaries of some of the latest technologies. And often times the infrastructure, the data itself, provided to fuel that innovation, pushes the limits of the participating state and local government agencies.

These early Civic Hacks have certainly seen their fair share of bumps in the road. Data has often been spotty, extremely limited in scope and duration, or insufficient to adequately address the challenges at hand. After the hack, it has been challenging to reconvene the team needed to carry solutions through to implementation. And if winning teams do stick together, local government agencies are often ill-equipped to collaborate with teams outside of the traditional public sector procurement process.

Like the country’s infrastructure system a hundred years ago, many of the roads and highways of the new data-driven economy are more dirt and rock than smooth asphalt. The vast majority of public data provided by municipalities or the State of Indiana are only available through clunky databases and outdated PDFs. Most city and state agencies are still bound by procurement and data sharing red tape held over from a bygone era.

2015 Indy Civic Hack Day at Eleven Fifty.
2015 Indy Civic Hack Day at Eleven Fifty.

But with the internet of things and other smart city technologies approaching on the horizon, it’s not hard to start imagining how an explosion in open public data could impact our lives in the coming decades. The potential opportunities for Indiana businesses to consume that data, build innovative solutions, or begin new businesses is immense…

IF we continue driving forward.

In the two short years since the first Hack Day, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of civic hacks, with topics covering everything from public safety to legislative transparency to combating the state’s drug abuse problem.

We’ve seen the creation of the Open Indy Brigade, an organization dedicated to being the central hub where technologists and public sector innovators can come together to address large social issues. And earlier this month, the City of Indianapolis launched Open Indy, the city’s first public facing open data portal and permanent home for the type of information needed to fuel innovation.

There’s still a long way to go to make Indy that economic center of the data-driven economy. There are plenty of bumps to smooth out on the road to get us there. Next week’s Indy Civic Hack Day is an opportunity to log another mile on that journey.

So when we see the winner cross the Yard of Bricks this weekend, let’s celebrate how far the track and the state of Indiana have come in the past century. And let’s start to imagine where civic innovation can lead us in the next.


Matt Kirby
Open Indy Brigade Co-Founder

Potential of IoT & Open Data on Display at IoT Civic Hack

“They’re coming.”

I remember the conversation in late February with Bill Soards, the President of AT&T Indiana, breaking the good news that the AT&T Developer Program was finally descending upon Central Indiana. The resulting hack would endeavor to mix internet of things (IoT) technology and open data related to Indiana’s growing illegal drug problem.

State Rep. Ben Smaltz and President of AT&T Indiana Bill Soards discuss technology's role in combating drug abuse at IoT Civic Hack.
State Rep. Ben Smaltz and President of AT&T Indiana Bill Soards discuss technology’s role in combating drug abuse at IoT Civic Hack.

For starters, it meant a global leader in Smart City technology was dropping into our backyard and bringing with them a whole host of IoT gadgets to play with. For public sector agencies and community organizations, it offered an exciting opportunity to develop new tools to fight drug abuse. For the Brigade, it was a chance to bring disparate communities of technologists, first responders, and public sector agencies together to combat a significant problem.

Fast forward to this past weekend when over 150 developers, designers, data scientists, and engineers flooded into Launch Fishers, Indiana’s newest and largest coworking space. The results of the nearly 30 hour hack ranged from a predictability model designed to reduce ambulance response time to a facial recognition system connected to a criminal database.

The new Launch Fishers provided a perfect backdrop for teams during the IoT Civic Hack.
The new Launch Fishers provided the backdrop for teams during the IoT Civic Hack.

Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services (EMS) provided data on over 70,000 ambulance runs spanning the past five years. “It was great to see a group of civic minded people helping to think outside the box when it comes to the health and safety of our community,” said Tom Arkins with Indy EMS. “It is this type of cooperation and ingenuity which solves problems.”

Tom Arkins, Chief of IT and Informatics with Indianapolis EMS, talks 911 data with a team at IoT Civic Hack.
Tom Arkins, Chief of IT and Informatics with Indianapolis EMS, talks 911 data with a team at IoT Civic Hack.

State Representative Ben Smaltz, whose northeastern Indiana district has been hit hard by methamphetamine, spoke at the hack and made an impassioned plea for new technology to help law enforcement. “I was enormously impressed with the event and the people who participated,” said Smaltz. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am for everyone who made an effort to help the kids impacted by meth labs. When people put their minds together to solve a problem, nothing can stop them.”

Winning submissions included:

o 1st Best App Overall– Community1 – A solution that allows the security camera at the door of a private residence or business to easily search criminal databases and warn of potential threats. A programed Raspberry Pi 3 sends live video footage to a server, which uses a facial recognition API and local criminal database.

The team from Community1 presents their facial recognition solution.
The team from Community1 presents their facial recognition solution.

o 2nd Best App Overall – Park Explorer – This app gives citizens real-time insights into activity at local parks to help them decide where to go. It also gives the public the ability to provide feedback about the current conditions and report safety concerns. Park directors are supplied with actionable data about how many people are visiting parks, and a way to interact directly with park goers.

o 1st Best Open Data Solution – 911 Analytics – This solution is a 911 ambulance recommendation system. Using data analytics, priority 911 caller zones and dispatch codes are identified. The resulting smart ambulance network improves the average distance between caller and ambulance by 20 percent.

The team from 911 Analytics took top prize for an open data solution.
The team from 911 Analytics took top prize for an open data solution.

o 2nd Best Open Data Solution – Crime Cast – Crime Cast uses law enforcement data to show areas of high crime rate in a heatmap. This serves to help predict and target high-risk crime areas for certain conditions.

o Best Use of M2X – Smart Bin – By leveraging IoT to bring big data insights to waste disposal, SmartBins is a after-market WiFi sensor installed on residential and commercial garbage collection bins. The solution gives waste disposal companies and cities the ability to make better use of resources and increase customer satisfaction.


Matt Kirby

Indy Civic Tech’s Tipping Point

“You want to do what with our data??”

I remember the perplexed responses we received while organizing the inaugural Indy Civic Hack Day in May of 2014. To be fair, it was really the first time anyone had approached municipal and state agencies asking them to provide data in open format.  After a lot of explaining, some coaxing, and a little bit of scraping, we were able to cobble together enough data sets to have something to work with.

It sure wasn’t pretty but it was the start of Indy’s civic tech movement.

Fast forward to February 2016 and it’s somewhat astounding how far we’ve come in less than two years. Just look at the next three weeks where two civic hacks will give participants the opportunity to engage newly released state and municipal data sets, create solutions that can profoundly impact our community, and provide direct feedback to elected officials and key government decision makers.

What makes these two events particularly important? Indy’s civic tech community is at a true tipping point. Interest by the public sector in civic tech has never been higher and the stage for civic hacking has never been bigger. A strong show of support by Indy’s tech community continues the momentum and creates larger opportunities in the future. And if Indy’s best technologists stay at home? Well, this party could be over just as it’s getting started. It’s critical that our technology community makes the most of the opportunity.

A closer look at the two events:

Hack and Pitch Night
Thursday, February 11th – 6pm – Speak Easy
Cost: FREE

Late last year Indy rolled out one of the country’s first regional open data portals to a lot of fanfare. In the three months of its existence, has generated much activity, analysis, feedback on how to improve the existing data, and suggestions for additional data sets. Unfortunately, the new portal has lacked the human infrastructure around it to successfully capture the activity and aggregate citizen input. Enter the Open Indy Brigade’s Hack & Pitch Night. The two-hour event this coming Thursday at the Speak Easy will give technologists the opportunity to hear directly from content experts, explore the data, pitch their work, and make recommendations on how to improve the portal in the future.

Friday, February 26th – 6pm – Indiana Statehouse
Saturday, February 27th – 8am – Indiana Government Center
Cost: FREE

Have you ever tried to follow a bill working its way through the Indiana General Assembly? Unless you like hanging out in the hallways of the State House, understanding the status of a bill or where it’s headed can be confusing to most Hoosiers. The Indy Chamber’s #INCapitolHack is here to help. Using a newly released API from the Legislative Services Agency, teams will have the opportunity to create a solution to help constituents track legislation, communicate with legislators, and impact the process. And with the hack taking place in the State House and Government Center, the close proximity to all the action is the best opportunity yet for Indy’s civic tech community to shine in front of key elected officials.

Indy’s Top 5 Civic Tech Moments of 2015

I almost didn’t make it. There was nearly a foot of snow on the ground early that Saturday morning this past February, making me question if the 30 minute drive up to the Speak Easy was worth the hassle. All I knew was Indy’s Code for America fellows had chosen to host the city’s first CodeAcross event on one of the worst weather days of the year. “I’m not even sure what will come out of this,” I said to my wife as I was getting dressed. “But I feel like I need to be there.”

Only a handful of dedicated souls ventured out to the Speak Easy that day. I won’t lie. My first thought was, “Why am I not curled up on my couch right now?” But slowly, as I got to know everyone, and we started talking about the need for our tech community to engage local government, it became clear the drive had been well worth it. This was something new – something that could have a profound impact on the city. And if these people showed up on a day like this, you knew they were committed to make it happen. The Open Indy Brigade had been born.

It’s hard to believe that was just ten months ago. From that initial meeting, we’ve grown to over 230 members, established partnerships and sponsorships, facilitated open data events, and begun multiple projects that could change the landscape of civic innovation for years to come. Now, as we begin preparing for a busy new year, it’s a good time for us to celebrate how far Indy’s civic tech community has come and say ‘thank you’ for the hard work that has brought this movement to life. So let’s count it down – Indy’s top 5 civic tech moments of 2015!

#5 – Eleven Fifty hosts 2nd annual Indy Civic Hack Day – June 6th 
Bigger crowd. Bigger names. Bigger challenges. That pretty much sums up the successful sequel to the inaugural event in 2014. Now recognized as the must-attend event for Indy’s civic tech community, Indy Civic Hack Day provides three extremely valuable outcomes. CivicHackFirst, for elected officials, public sector staff, and other thought leaders throughout the city, Indy Civic Hack is now the event where government can engage and collaborate with Indy’s tech community. Initially tepid to the idea of discussing thorny challenges with a broad audience, state and local government agencies have started to embrace the opportunity of Hack Day to surface new innovation. Second, the invitation by high level officials to solve critical challenges sends a clear message to the technology community that their work is important and that Indy can offer unique opportunities. In a hyper competitive global environment for talent, an event that appeals to a variety of tech skill sets and builds a connection to the city is invaluable. Lastly, Civic Hack Day puts Indy’s best foot forward on a global stage. As part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, Indy Civic Hack is just one of more than 100 events that takes place around the world to encourage civic innovation. But stuffing 250 of Indy’s best and brightest into Eleven Fifty Coding Academy, a place that looks like Bruce Manor, and broadcasting that out to the world puts Indy on the radar in a big way.

#4 – Schevola wins Hack Series Triple Crown – October 27th
One of the many benefits of a vibrant civic tech ecosystem is that it has a way of surfacing latent tech talent. Case in point: John Schevola. SchevolaSchevola, a telecommunications specialist at AT&T, was in the home stretch of earning his bachelor’s degree from Western Governor’s University (WGU) in February of 2015 when an email popped in his inbox. It was an invitation to participate in the Indiana vs. Texas Hack to be held in just a few days. Schevola scrambled to put together a team. Ultimately, he could find only one partner, his 17-year-old son Isaiah, to join him for his first foray into hacking. Turns out, that was all he needed. Schevola took top honors for his Indiana vs. Texas Hack submission and went on to win a challenge for his submission at Indy Civic Hack Day. For the Corporate Hack in October, Schevola found himself once again in the winner’s circle for his submission to the challenge provided by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, making him the Hack Series’ only 3-time winner. In addition to his prize winnings, Schevola’s breakout performance this year has also earned him a promotion with AT&T and resulted in multiple internship offers for his son. Congratulations John!

#3 – Open Indy Brigade launches Civic UX initiative – November 19th
Since the start of the Open Indy Brigade, dozens of exciting project ideas have been discussed and debated, each with the potential to bring significant positive change to our community. webBut none of those projects has generated the amount of interest and activity as the Brigade’s recently launched initiative to improve the user experience (UX) of the websites and apps deployed by local government. “As an organization that puts so much emphasis on open data, it may seem a little strange that our first project is all about UX,” said Rachel Mahan, the project lead for Civic UX. “But open data’s full potential can’t be realized unless people are able to interact with public websites and understand what they’re looking at. UX is an important part of this effort.” In November, the Open Indy Brigade officially launched the Civic UX initiative and announced a partnership with the Visual Communication Design program at Herron School of Art and Design.

#2 – Indiana vs Texas Hack winner Reborn Code wins contract – October 9th  
Winning a contract with the Indiana Office of Technology may not sound like one of the most exciting moments of 2015, but in the world of civic innovation, believe us – it’s a big deal! DaryeThe announcement in October that Fishers-based Reborn Code was inking a deal with the IOT as a result of their Indiana vs. Texas Hack submission marked the first contract to result from a hackathon in the State of Indiana and one of the first such contracts in the country. Reborn Code Founder and CEO Darye Henry attributes his company’s success to understanding public sector timelines and encourages other local startups to follow suit. “The startup community needs to be more patient,” said Henry. “The fact that they are reaching out at all is a big first step.” Henry says Reborn Code will continue working with IOT into the new year and hopes his efforts help blaze a trail for more local tech shops to work with the State. We hope so too, Darye!

#1 – Central Indiana launches open data portal – November 16th  
Undoubtedly the top spot for this year goes to the highly anticipated rollout of the regional open data portal in November. IMG_0313Indy might have been a little late in joining the open data party, but as one of the first truly regional portals in the country, we certainly knew how to make an entrance. Indianapolis, Fishers, Zionsville, and Greenwood joined forces to establish a regional data sharing initiative that connects each city to a new portal – While the portal is currently limited to a handful of data sets, it’s important to understand the potential of this new resource. For the first time ever, agencies across multiple municipalities have the ability to share information in near real time to a centralized location. Anyone with an internet connection has access to unfiltered information direct from its source. Creating this centralized data repository opens a world of potential benefits to municipal agencies, local businesses, and the community as whole. For local government, the free flow of data allows agencies to direct resources more efficiently, save taxpayer dollars, and provide information to constituents in a 21st century manner. For businesses, the data creates a whole new path to potential products and solutions. For the community, the data provides an opportunity to engage a wide spectrum of interest groups to better understand, debate, and resolve issues.

In 2016, the Open Indy Brigade endeavors to keep growing Central Indiana’s civic tech movement. Please join us January 14th for our first meetup of the year as we forge our plans for 2016 and chart the path forward.

Thank you again to everyone who worked to make 2015 such a remarkable success!


Written by:
Matt Kirby
Captain, Open Indy Brigade

Regional Portal Offers Data Feast

Let the feast begin!

Wait, where’s the turkey? The stuffing? The green bean casserole? That weird stuff covered in marshmallows? Sorry – not that kind of meal.

Central Indiana is about to enjoy a different kind of banquet – a feast of data, if you will. Forget the turkey. This Thanksgiving we’re set to chow down on a bounty of mouth-watering data sets and fresh from the oven charts and graphs. Confused? Let me explain.

This past Monday, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, Zionsville Mayor Jeff Papa and Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers established a regional data sharing initiative that connects their respective cities to a newly created open data portal – Like a true family pitch-in, agencies across multiple municipalities now have the ability to share information in near real time to a centralized location. And everyone’s invited (even that side of the family nobody really talks to any more). The new portal gives anyone with an internet connection access to unfiltered information direct from its source.

Why is this such a significant step forward? Prior to the existence of the new portal, these valuable data sets were scattered across multiple sites, hidden in hard to find databases, produced in varying formats that made comparison difficult, or available only through an arduous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request process. And if it was nearly impossible for members of the public to find the data, it wasn’t much easier for agency staffers. These same technological disparities coupled with the limited staff capacities of many departments conspired to keep most data from ever being meaningfully analyzed.

Why should you care? Creating a centralized repository for data opens a world of potential benefits to municipal agencies, local businesses, and the community as whole. For local government, the free flow of data allows agencies to direct resources more efficiently, save taxpayer dollars, and provide information to constituents in a 21st century manner. For businesses, the data creates a whole new path to potential products and solutions. For the community, the data provides an opportunity to engage a wide spectrum of interest groups to better understand, debate, and resolve issues.

Where does this initiative go from here? While the cities that participated in this week’s announcement are to be commended, the creation of the portal should only be seen as a first step. Putting a smattering of data sets online won’t magically solve problems. True progress must begin with a cultural shift within government that values data-driven decision making as fundamental for improving the quality of life for our community. Next, we must be diligent about adding new information. The challenges we face are not confined to a single county or agency. Therefore, the limited data currently housed within the portal must be expanded and additional cities and towns across the state brought into the fold.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the community must be invited to be an active participant in the process. Releasing data without significant community engagement just means we’ve prepared an enormous feast without inviting anyone over to enjoy it. There must be rigorous, ongoing community-wide dialogue about the quantity and quality of the information being provided and an open invitation on the part of local agencies to take the information and create something with it that benefits the entire community.

With municipal agencies, local businesses, and the community together at the table, the regional open data portal offers a path towards a true 21st century system of government that works for every Central Indiana resident.

Let’s dig in!


Written by:
Matt Kirby
Captain, Open Indy Brigade