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Wising Up Waste: Atlanta and Trash Tech Company Rubicon Pilot Smart City Program

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The Internet of Things is a booming industry. It seems like almost every ordinary device, from speakers and automobiles to housekeeping products, has a connected version nowadays (Case in point: you can now buy a Wifi-connected, smartphone-triggered dog treat dispenser). With technology giants expanding into industries beyond their original focus and consumers using a wide array of products and operating systems, connectivity is the name of the game.

But connection isn’t important only in the car or the home, but for the larger infrastructure we operate in as well. Municipalities must begin to operate on an intelligent, tech-enabled level as well, to keep up with their residents and streamline operations.

And when it comes to smart cities, it’s no surprise that Atlanta is leading the pack. Last year Atlanta became one of eight U.S. cities serving as a pilot for AT&T’s Smart Cities framework. Georgia Tech is a pilot university partner.

Most recently, the city of Atlanta announced a partnership that will bring connectivity to an area most don’t consider high-tech (or may not consider at all!): the waste industry.

That partner is Rubicon Global, the Atlanta-based clean tech success story that Forbes called the next “billion-dollar startup.” The company, which aims to revolutionize the waste industry by applying data analytics, tracking technology and market insights, has made a slew of massive announcements in the last two years: raising a $50 million funding round from such high-profile investors as Leonardo DiCaprio, being named a 2016 Fast Company Most Innovative Company, and earlier this month — announcing another $50 million round led by international resource management company SUEZ, who will serve as a strategic partner.

But when it came to choosing the location for a pilot city program, Rubicon is staying true to its roots.

“We started (the city pilot program) in Atlanta because it’s our home,” says Rubicon’s director of public policy, Michael Allegretti. “We started in Atlanta because of the city’s leadership. And we started in Atlanta because we think it’s an important signal nationally that it’s not just Silicon Valley or NYC; innovation can come from other corners of the country.

Sometimes, it’s able to break through more clearly in places where there may be a more engaged business community and a more involved population, which you find here in Atlanta.”

The pilot program, which kicked off in early January, will involve Rubicon installing its app-based tracking and communication platform inside all of the city’s waste hauling trucks. The driver interfaces directly with the app, which collects data in real-time about waste, routes, service issues, and more. That data is then routed back to Rubicon and can be tracked and analyzed.

That data, along with the ability to analyze it and provide recommendations, is the game changer of this program, according to Atlanta’s Director of Sustainability, John R. Seydel.

“In order to measure any success in sustainability, we first need to have the data and be able to interpret the data. Having this technology will allow us to see the success of our multiple projects, of all our policies, to create scalability for our partners,” says Seydel, who assumed the Office of the Sustainability position at the same time the Rubicon partnership was being announced. He succeeded Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, now Atlanta’s Chief Resilience Officer, who was one of the original city officials brokering the partnership.

“Now, we’ll be able to look at a map and identify how the initiatives and programs from the Office of Sustainability are working in which communities. Atlanta is such a diverse area that not everything will work the same across the city, and this will allow us to test those on a large scale, as well as be more more efficient with tax dollars for all Atlantans,” says Seydel.

“This is the best example of a public-private partnership where the city is going to benefit, all Atlantans are going to benefit, and our technology community, led by Rubicon in this instance, will benefit,” says Seydel.

According to Allegretti, by the end of this week Rubicon technology will be in every waste truck in the city of Atlanta. The pilot will run for six months. Seydel said that Georgia Tech researchers will be analyzing the data collected during the pilot, which can then inform policy recommendations.

Allegretti, who came to Rubicon after a stint leading policy efforts at Uber, said that a city government is the natural partner in Rubicon’s mission of revolutionizing the stagnant waste industry.

“At Rubicon, we’re disrupting an industry. It’s an industry that lacks transparency, it lacks data, it lacks innovation, it focuses on a set of incentives that are bad for both the environment and for customers. We see government as a partner in helping to move that industry along and also to make cities more livable,” says Allegretti.

Rubicon’s technology will also make citizen-government communication more efficient.

“Up until now, the communication has been low-tech: a citizen reaches out to the government to complain about their waste pickup. The government probably isn’t equipped to respond quickly or with the information they need to do so accurately. Now they have that information and a platform to analyze it, see if the complaint is accurate, and if it is, know how to resolve it so it doesn’t happen again,” says Allegretti.

Allegretti says he only sees the pipeline of cities with Rubicon programs expanding, with Atlanta serving as a model for how the program works. He says the SUEZ partnership will increase Rubicon’s knowledge and capabilities in this field even further.

“Suez has a long history of working with cities,” says Allegretti. “Smart city solutions are only as smart as the latest thing. We represent a new technological offering for cities, and they represent a know-how of how this has been successful over time. Together, you have the right ingredients to build out a really robust smart cities offering.”

By building a partnership that promises to improve efficiency and reliability, help government become more responsive to citizens, and increase resiliency and sustainability, Atlanta and Rubicon are showing that a connected, tech-enabled city truly is smart.

This article is in partnership with our friends at Atlanta-based Hypepotamus.

Image via Rubicon Global. Inline images via Rubicon Global and Michael Allegretti.