Tech & Startups

Dallas Innovation Alliance Unveils Vision For Future of the West End

Virtual reality experience and rendering aim to help community, advocates visualize upcoming projects.

A rendering by Boka Powell highlights smart objects that will be installed in the West End.
A rendering by Boka Powell highlights smart objects that will be installed in the West End.

The Dallas Innovation Alliance has solidified its first several projects and is unveiling its vision for the West End’s living lab via images and a virtual reality experience.

“It can be kind of abstract talking about smart cities,” said Jennifer Sanders, DIA executive director. “But putting people into an immersive experience … helps connect the dots.”

The public-private partnership, which aims to develop Dallas into a smart city, teamed up with Dallas design firms Boka Powell and 900lbs of Creative to develop static images and a virtual reality exploratory tour of the future of the West End. The visual aids, which Sanders can show via an iPad or the HTC Vive, will help the DIA continue to educate the community, potential partners, and interested parties outside the city about what the DIA has planned for Dallas. The DIA plans to showcase its vision for the West end with the new materials at its community meeting on Wednesday evening at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center.

The visuals will help guide viewers into some of the solidified projects, including intelligent LED lighting, which can measure air quality and noise; interactive digital kiosks, which will offer USB charging stations, and provide information about emergency services, transit options, and city events via public Wi-Fi; waste management, which will include a solar-powered system that allows the city to know what trashcans need to be emptied.

“People get educated more quickly with hands-on experiences,” Steve Dietz, CEO of 900lbs, said about the DIA virtual reality experience his company created for the HTC Vive. “From here, we’ll just add more interviews, videos and images.”

In addition to those project explored in the visual aids, the DIA also is working on projects for network connectivity, which is expected to be available across the living lab; smart parking, which will allow drivers to view available parking options and potentially serving parking ahead of time; an end-to-end mobility application, which will allow residents to view and get access to all forms of available transit in the city; and an open-source platform, which will aggregate data and allow others to build smart applications. Developing these projects into a proof of concept is all part of phase one for the DIA. Sanders expects several projects to be installed within six to nine months. After installation, the next step will be collecting about a year’s worth of data to prove return on investment for mass implementation.

The DIA is working with organizations, corporations, and city departments to determine how these projects will be developed. The DIA’s current partners are the city of Dallas, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, Dallas Entrepreneur Center, Dallas Regional Chamber, Dallas 2030 District, Downtown Dallas Inc., The Real Estate Council, Texas Research Alliance, AECOM, AT&T, Cisco, CIVIQ Streetscapes, Current, Deloitte, Ericsson, IBM, Microsoft, Schneider Electric, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Universal Mind, Xerox, and World Wide Technology.

This rendering created by Boka Powell shows an aerial view of the future of the West End.
This rendering created by Boka Powell shows an aerial view of the future of the West End.

And if all goes as planned, the West End could serve as the Innovation District for the city, which is the goal of the DIA. This would not only help spur new technologies for city use, but help increase property values, which are rising for the first time since their inception. As it is more than 32 tech, media, and innovation companies occupy 215,000 square feet of space, representing 33 percent of occupied property in the West End.

“Most people [who] would say ‘OK, so they put Wi-Fi on the streets for people to use’ totally miss the boat,” said CBRE’s Jeff Eiting, adding that the DIA’s project will improve the community’s quality of life. “Everybody loves routing for the underdog–an area that lost its identity and is now a thriving district.”

900lbs partnered with DIA as pro bono project. The company chooses one pro bono project every other month. It developed the virtual reality experience, worth about $40,000 in work, in about a month’s time. It plans to continue building on the DIA project as it evolves.

“Balancing community-based work and big brands is important to us,” Dietz said. “Working with the DIA makes a lot of sense.”

The alliance is part of the Envision America program, which selected Dallas as one of 10 cities for launch in December 2015. Since then the organization has received a $205,000 grant from the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, gained support of the city, and partnered with several large corporations that intend to play a role in its development.

Read more about the Dallas Innovation Alliance and Sanders here.