Foxconn putting up $1 million for smart city contest

More details to be announced Aug. 7

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Alan Yeung, Foxconn director of U.S. strategic initiatives.

Foxconn Technology Group is offering $1 million in cash and in-kind prizes as part of its “Smart City, Smart Future” initiative, which was announced Thursday at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

The statewide contest will seek to develop ideas for smart connected cities and systems while also tapping into talent at Wisconsin’s public and private universities and colleges. The contest will be formally launched later this year during a Smart Futures Summit at UW-Parkside on Aug. 7.

“We do not have a monopoly on good ideas,” said Alan Yeung, Foxconn director of U.S. strategic initiatives. “We want to foster. We want to energize.”

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Prizes in the contest could come in the form of awards, stipends, financial support, and investment or as a platform to make ideas a reality. Entries could come in the form of papers, poster presentations, videos, business plans or social ventures.

Yeung said the contest is not intended only for students in science and technology and there is a role for those studying liberal arts.

“If you can articulate in your mind for your neighbors, for your neighborhood, what a smart community would be in words, it doesn’t have to be a software program, it doesn’t have to be a business plan, maybe a 500 word essay would actually create more excitement, stir more ideas and just spark some of the innovative thinking that we need to have,” Yeung said.

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In announcing the initiative, Yeung tried to spark ideas as well. He pointed out how Leonardo di Vinci couldn’t have imagined where human flight would be today and Alexander Graham Bell couldn’t have imagined what phones would look like today. He even referenced the 1985 film “Back to the Future” and said flying cars may be just five to 10 years from being reality.

“If you look at how connected and autonomous vehicles and highways are going, the roads and the vehicles are working together. We also are looking at unmanned aerial systems, which are drones. If you look at those two together, it would not take that long for unmanned vehicles that could carry passengers,” Yeung said.

The initiative is a partnership that includes the UW System, Wisconsin Technical College System, the state’s private colleges and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Yeung said it was important to target students because they’re more likely to think outside the box.

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“They’re not really hindered by constraints,” he said. “New things come very natural for them. I think we want to tap into that. Every time I come back to a campus like UW-Parkside I feel a lot younger.”

But what exactly defines a smart city is an evolving concept and Yeung acknowledged it could mean different things to people around the state or in different positions.

“To us … smart city has to start with jobs, because if you don’t have growth in population, when people are not staying, it’s really hard to have a smart city when they are deserted,” he said. “So it makes sense for us to sustain economic and demographic growth and I think that’s a priority for us.”

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