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Google launches Sidewalk Labs; aims to help fix cities

Google, famous for its ambitious projects to build self-driving cars and high-altitude balloons that beam the Internet to earth, is now taking aim at fixing another major problem: city life. The new initiative, called Sidewalk Labs, will use technology and innovation in an effort to improve urban life at a time when the U.S. population is gravitating to cities, according to Google CEO Larry Page.google_2357100b

Based in New York, it will be run by Dan Doctoroff, a former deputy mayor of New York City who will combine his experience in managing cities with funding from Google. “Sidewalk will focus on improving city life for everyone by developing and incubating urban technologies to address issues like cost of living, efficient transportation and energy usage,” Page said in a Google+ post.

“Many cities around the world have already made a lot of progress in some of these areas — for instance, developing dashboards to measure and visualize traffic patterns, and building tools that let residents instantly evaluate and provide feedback on city services. But a lot of urban challenges are interrelated — for example, availability of transportation affects where people choose to live, which affects housing prices, which affects quality of life,” Page wrote. “So it helps to start from first principles and get a big-picture view of the many factors that affect city life. Then, you can develop the technologies and partnerships you need to make a difference.” Page described Google’s investment as “relatively modest.” He did not disclose the amount, but compared Sidewalk Labs to Google X, Google’s research lab, and Calico, a Google-funded company that is researching health and aging.

“Making long-term, 10X bets like this is hard for most companies to do, but (Google co-founder) Sergey (Brin) and I have always believed that it’s important,” Page wrote. In a statement, Doctoroff said: “We are at the beginning of a historic transformation in cities. At a time when the concerns about urban equity, costs, health and the environment are intensifying, unprecedented technological change is going to enable cities to be more efficient, responsive, flexible and resilient.”