Google hits the Sidewalk with smart cities business

Google is investing in a new company that will use tech to tackle the problems of urban areas, including transport and energy.

Google's tentacles are set to creep into a new area of our lives with the creation of Sidewalk Labs.

Announced on Wednesday by Google CEO Larry Page, Sidewalk Labs is a smart cities startup, which will build and incubate technologies to help governments run their urban areas more efficiently.

Sidewalk Labs will "develop technology at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds, with a focus on improving city life for residents, businesses, and governments".

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It seems Sidewalk Labs' focus is both broad and vague: it will work on "products, platforms, and partnerships" for "the biggest challenges that cities face - such as making transportation more efficient and lowering the cost of living, reducing energy usage, and helping government operate more efficiently", the company said.

The company will be headed up by Dan Doctoroff, the former CEO of Bloomberg, and financed by Google. However, while Page said on Google+ that Sidewalk Labs is a "relatively modest investment and very different from Google's core business", he described the company as a "long-term, 10X bet" similar to its moonshot R&D operation Google X and its health and longevity effort Calico.

While Sidewalk Labs may style itself as an "urban innovation company", it will be part of a growing tech sector better known as 'smart cities'.

Smart cities projects aim to help governments cut costs and improve quality of life by promoting more efficient management of a city's public infrastructure - healthcare, utilities, transport, and waste management.

According to analyst house Forrester, the global smart cities market will be worth $1.6tn by 2020.

Much of the growth in smart cities is likely to be powered by better connectivity - faster 4G networks and the arrival of 5G - and the spread of the Internet of Things. Gartner predicts that by 2020, there will be 9.7 billion connected objects reporting in to smart cities systems.

Read more on smart cities

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