Smart City

Smart City Sentinel

Chicago Shines as One of the World's Most Connected Cities: A Fresh Vision for 2020

By Arti Loftus

Chicago is beloved for so many reasons – its history, its architecture, its art, music, food, culture and people. Chicagoans are as proud as any city inhabitants can be, and their attachment to their communities and neighborhoods and their deep roots in service to others is matched by their commitment to the creation of a Chicago that is sustainable environmentally, thriving economically, with opportunities accessible to all.

Chicago cares about the next generation, and that energy and collective vision also make Chicago one of the great centers for innovation and investment, especially when it comes to “Smart Cities” and “Smart Communities” and companies pioneering in the contextually connected world.

Earlier this month, Rocket Wagon Venture Studios, a start-up designed to support the success of start-ups in the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) space which is headquartered in Chicago, announced one of Chicago’s business leaders, Yusef Jackson, joined their advisory board as a local advocate and change maker focused on opportunities in Chicagoland, but also as an entrepreneur who sees a bright future in exporting successful connected solutions to cities across the US and eventually around the world.

“The team at Rocket Wagon is genuinely committed to accelerating great ideas for connected products and services into real world solutions that can reduce impact to the natural environment, protecting our great lakes, rivers and air, and can make Chicago and its surrounding communities more livable and accessible,” Jackson said. “We can improve every neighborhood in Chicago, especially those which have been underserved and under-connected; the opportunity to change the lives of children, families, our elders and all is very real, important and meaningful. Chicago was the perfect place to establish these innovation and development studios, given the talent pool we have here, and support for technology we’ve seen demonstrated as one of the most vibrant tech centers in the world. My contribution will be focused around connecting every community for good.”

Chicago is ranked eighth in the world smartest city rankings, behind other smart cities projects like those of London, New York City and Barcelona. Former mayor Rahm Emanuel set his sights on making Chicago “the most data-driven government in the world,” and supported the implementation of a data-focused initiative, tapping into successful organizations World Business Chicago, Array of Things, and the Midwest IoT Council, to driver a greener, safer and more convenient quality of life for Chicagoans.

Last year, Chicago received a Smart 50 Award from Smart Cities Connect for its innovative Array of Things program, a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes that measure real- time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure and activity for research and public use, which address everything from water management and traffic safety, measuring factors that impact livability in Chicago including climate, air quality and noise to help detect heavy vehicle traffic, identify standing water in real time to prevent property damage and illness and observe which areas of the city are heavily populated by pedestrians at different times of day to suggest safe and efficient routes for walking to improve pedestrian safety. (The Array of Things program is managed by University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, along with the City, and funded by a National Science Foundation grant).

“Super successful programs like the Array of Things initiative are thriving in our region, and what we build and implement here can be carried forward into other places,” Jackson said. “By creating an environment for success, which is exactly what Rocket Wagon Venture Studios is doing, we will generate high quality jobs and inspiring jobs, given all the problems Smart City, Smart Building, Smart Campus and more can address. The opportunities to contribute to a cleaner city, to contribute to better public transportation systems, to make Chicago more walkable, to respond to emergencies faster will motivate the next generation of inventors and investors to build valuable technologies and systems that can change the course of city living forever.”

Jackson saw the opportunity to join the advisory board as one that bridges business with programs benefitting the social good, including educational opportunities for young people. “As an entrepreneur myself, and as a father, I tend to look forward to envision sustainable success for generations to come,” he said, “and am exploring ways to engage young people in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs which the studios can sponsor. We are on the planet for only a short time, and when we are presented with opportunities to make a change, make a difference and make this city we love better, it’s important for us to embrace those opportunities and act. For the opportunity Don and the team at Rocket Wagon have given me, I am grateful and ready to get to work.”

Rocket Wagon Venture Studios was established earlier this year by Don DeLoach, a technologist who has built and sold a series of companies in the financial services, data management and processing, and Internet of Things industries. “We are thrilled to have a professional and person of Yusef’s caliber and outstanding reputation join our advisory board,” DeLoach said. “Having another Chicagoan on the team, especially one with such a strong connection to our city, and such a lasting commitment to improving lives is extremely meaningful to me, to our other board members, and especially to our hard-working team as we gear up for a strong 2020. Yusef and I share a love for Chicago, and a vision for what we can do when we blend connected technologies with human systems.”

As an original leader in rolling out Smart City programs, the Smart City community in Chicago continues to advance and grow. The Smart Chicago Collaborative was a civic organization “devoted to improving lives in Chicago through the transformative power of technology, working on on increasing access to the Internet, improving skills for using Internet and developing meaningful products from data that measurably contribute to the quality of life of residents in our region and beyond.”

A joint project of the City of Chicago, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation  and the Trust, the collaborative provided cross-sector leadership and resources to support the city’s digital transformation, and in 2017, the Smart Chicago Collaborative and City Digital merged to form City Tech, which is also represented on the Rocket Wagon Venture Studios board (through Brenna Berman, Executive Director of City Tech, and former CIO of the City of Chicago from 2012 to 2017. Berman co-chairs the Array of Things (US DOE) project for smart cites, and the Midwest IoT Council.

“Don is bringing together an incredibly talented, proven team of people who are determined to make a real difference here and across the country, and eventually around the world,” Jackson said. “We’re about to see a tremendous amount of value created, sustainable value for the common good, and rewards for the inventors, innovators and investors who contribute to life-changing solutions as our daily lives become more connected than ever.”


Ken Briodagh is a storyteller, writer and editor with about two decades of experience under his belt. He is in love with technology and if he had his druthers would beta test everything from shoe phones to flying cars.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

Special Correspondent

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