NSF announces $24.2 million to support research fueling smart cities and communities

Alexandria, Virginia - The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced approximately $22.6 million in Smart and Connected Communities (S&CC) awards, supporting 13 projects involving researchers at 35 institutions nationwide.

Additionally, NSF and Mozilla announced the winners of the NSF Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society (WINS) Challenges, awarding a total of $1.6 million to eight teams that will work to bring internet connectivity to millions of Americans who lack stable connections.

"The Smart and Connected Communities program continues to generate innovative and collaborative research applications that are addressing challenges faced by our local communities and cities and are offering solutions to help improve people's lives," said Jim Kurose, NSF's assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering. "As part of our broader portfolio of investments in local communities, the NSF-WINS challenges have tapped into the creativity of teams across the country who do not typically apply to NSF to come up with solutions to the pressing challenges of internet connectivity."

S&CC awards

NSF's S&CC program supports researchers working with communities and residents to identify and define challenges they face and designing research projects to help address them. Teams work together with community partners to conduct use-inspired research that spans technological and social dimensions, and to test innovations in "living labs" within their communities.

This year's S&CC awards address a broad spectrum of community needs, including public safety, rural internet access, storm water and drinking water management, community health, transportation availability and safety, and workforce development. Researchers will form partnerships with civic leaders, community organizations, anchor institutions and other stakeholders.


For the NSF-WINS Challenges, four of the winners competed to design off-the-grid solutions for regions struck by hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters, where connectivity during the recovery period is often hindered by network overload or failure. The other four winners competed to design solutions to bring affordable connectivity to rural areas that are currently under-connected or offline.

NSF has long been a leader in advancing the fundamental science and engineering research and education to help bring about new levels of economic opportunity and growth, safety and security, health and wellness, and overall quality of life. Collectively, the S&CC and NSF-WINS Challenges awards represent NSF's significant investment in the fundamental advances that will transform America's cities and communities and address many of the challenges they face today.

Below are examples of new S&CC projects, their principal investigators and their associated academic institutions.

Integrating Heterogeneous Wide-Area Networks and Advanced Data Science to Bridge the Digital Divide in Rural Emergency Preparedness and Response, Mariya Zheleva, University at Albany

Working with the town of Thurman, New York, and the Warren County Emergency Services Department, researchers will investigate how network architectures and protocols can be enhanced to allow emergency responders to use TV white space, Wi-Fi and pocket-switching for communications in rural areas where mobile broadband is difficult to access. The results will be leveraged for the development of a smartphone app that will support communications among first responders, government agencies and residents during disasters. Transferability to other rural communities will be piloted in coordination with Microsoft's Airband Initiative.

STEMports: Community Workforce Development through Augmented Reality STEM Learning Experiences, Scott Byrd, Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance

This collaborative research team from two rural communities, the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, and the Field Day Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will co-design STEMports, an augmented reality learning game for workforce development. STEMports will engage students in augmented reality missions to enhance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning, and to help them discover emerging STEM careers in their local communities, including in the fields of sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, forest products and renewable energy.

Data-Informed Scenario Planning for Mobility Decision Making in Resource Constrained Communities, Jerome Lynch, University of Michigan

Working with the community of Benton Harbor, Michigan, and the Twin Cities Area Transportation Authority, researchers will build analytical models of resident mobility preferences and mobility service performance using data from sensing technologies that they will deploy. These results will feed into a community-based visualization decision tool that will be piloted by stakeholders evaluating transportation solutions aimed at improving access to employment, education and healthcare.

Below are examples of winners of the NSF-WINS Challenges.

High-frequency Emergency and Rural Multimedia Exchange System (HERMES), Rhizomatica in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

HERMES is an autonomous network that can be deployed after earthquakes and hurricanes. It integrates an assortment of unexpected protocols -- like Global System for Mobile communication, or GSM, and short-wave radio -- to provide communications when critical infrastructure is overloaded or suffers failure during a disaster. The system enables local calling and basic text messaging by using equipment that can fit inside two suitcases. HERMES allows those impacted by disaster to tell anyone, anywhere, that they are okay.

Southern Connected Communities Network (SCCN), Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee

SCCN models how a community-controlled internet service provider can bring affordable and reliable broadband to rural Appalachia. SCCN uses an 80-foot tower that draws wireless backbone from Knoxville, Tennessee, via the public 11 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum. This tower then redistributes this broadband connectivity to local communities using line-of-sight technology. The tower is owned and operated by the local residents.

Complete lists of the fiscal year (FY) 2018 NSF S&CC awardees and NSF-WINS awardees are available online.