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San Antonio forms “R&D League” to improve city’s operations

San Antonio has founded the “R&D League” in partnership with Southwest Research Institute, the United Services Automobile Association and the University of Texas to help residents via technology.

Early projects will focus on affordable housing, city vehicle use and traffic cameras, with a goal of ensuring that policy decisions are based on accurate data.

The initiative will create opportunities for highly skilled, cross-sector teams of academics, engineers, scientists and city staff to explore new ways to address challenges.

Each project team will test a hypothesis, report the results and recommend next steps. Each of the initiative's ideas must be flexible. For those that work, SwRI, USAA and UTSA will expand their research capacity by using San Antonio as a living lab and making them more competitive for grant funding.

“The level of skill and knowledge that comes from the collaboration of these three institutions is a huge asset to San Antonio,” City Manager Erik Walsh said in a statement. “The R&D League initiative will amplify those benefits to directly improve the way our city works for everyone."

The initiative has six projects in the works for 2020 that were developed within the last six months. These include development of the R&D program structure, as well as the following:

  • Sensors on city vehicles: A SwRI-led project — to be conducted in conjunction with the city's Solid Waste Management, and the Transportation and Capital Improvements departments — that will collect data on the city’s infrastructure and service needs to help departments proactively address needs and evaluate resource allocation.
  • Neighborhood empowerment zones impacts estimator: A UTSA-led project, conducted with the city's Neighborhood and Housing Services Department, that will build an interactive mapping tool to collect data, determine neighborhood empowerment zones and track the impact of affordable housing interventions.
  • The idea portal: A project led by the city's office of innovation with USAA that will design and implement a digital process for the city to collect, explore and evaluate ideas and improvements from employees and residents.
  • City Hall to go: A project led by the city's office of innovation that will identify when and where department outreach and intake efforts overlap and align those efforts in a mobile format especially for low-income and harder-to-reach populations. The first event is planned for March on the Southeast side.
  • ActiveVision: A SwRI-led project in collaboration with the Transportation and Capital Improvements Department that will use artificial intelligence in traffic cameras to provide automatic, real-time alerts to city staff when traffic anomalies are detected.