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Uncharted is integrating the internet of things with sidewalks

Sustainable infrastructure is desperately needed to ensure resilience in the face of the climate crisis. Uncharted is throwing its digital and physical solution into the ring as a viable option.

A highway winding through a green forest with various data points illustrated

Image via Shutterstock/ metamorworks

By now, you’ve definitely heard everyone from government officials to journalists (including yours truly) speak to the importance of shoring up sustainable infrastructure, sometimes referred to as "the built environment." In the context of this essay, sustainable infrastructure involves developing and updating roads, buildings, water systems and energy structures with due consideration of the economic, social and environmental implications. But addressing all of this requires a multitude of solutions.  

New York-based Uncharted’s approach centers on prioritizing the collection of data about community infrastructure needs in real time. Knowledge of this data would allow a city to update its operational systems — from broadband access to road repairs — in the most efficient and sustainable manner. But how? 

Uncharted installs digital dashboards a few inches into the ground that sense and collect different types of data. The dashboards are then used to create a "digital twin" of the city, consolidating the management of the entire community’s infrastructure in one space, an accompanying software program. If we want to get technical (which we do because this is Climate TECH Weekly), the in-the-ground dashboard is a platform as a service (PaaS) that can house an entire city’s monitoring and management information in one place. And the information is all collected via the tech inside the city’s sidewalk. Seriously. 

Citing the ground — sidewalks — as an accessible area to house a city’s internet of things (IoT) operations, Uncharted creates and paves a sustainably sourced polymer fiber around the dashboards in place of traditional cement. This material is designed to allow easy access for repairs or subsequent updates by engineers to the single-board computers and power cables placed within while still maintaining the durability and sturdiness of normal cement for everyday use. 

While participating in a 2021 panel moderated by Bloomberg, Uncharted founder and CEO Jessica O. Matthews said, "There’s a difference between being at the same place and being on the same page … for [Uncharted], that means really prioritizing standardization of physical and digital interfaces.” 

And the combination of the physical and digital enables important metrics such as air quality, temperature and ground vibrations to be gathered and viewed on the digital interface. "[There are] sensors, for example, that can detect the vibrations from a weakening water line before it breaks," said Matthews, offering one example. Additionally, municipal services such as backup smart battery systems for critical infrastructure can be installed and managed via Uncharted’s digital system. 

Engineers in orange jackets installing white boxes into the sidewalk

Image courtesy of The Poughkeepsie Journal


Essentially, Uncharted’s PaaS is designed to expedite the process for a city to identify, install and rectify specific community needs. "[The dashboard] is so all smart-city solutions can just plug in," explained Matthews in an interview. Once a need is determined, Uncharted hopes to easily install the update in the specific location.

From October 2020 to August 2021, Uncharted embarked on a successful pilot program with the city of Poughkeepsie, New York, to showcase its physical and digital-IoT product. The pilot received funding from The Siegel Family Endowment of $1.8 million. The company’s integrated system "made it easier to monitor [Poughkeepsie’s] service flows and disruptions across the city." 

All in all, Uncharted’s response to desperately needed, equitable and integrated sustainable infrastructure is promising, but it's not alone in the space. In fact, according to Pitchbook, the "built environment" startup sector has seen an investment boom, with a total venture capital deal value of $1.4 billion in 2022 alone, following the strong performance of the sector in 2021 with a total of $1.8 billion in deal values. 

And given the experts at Pitchbook expect the sector as a whole to continue to grow, I am sure Uncharted is not the last sustainable infrastructure company Climate Tech Weekly will cover.

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