Navigator Award Finalists: The Tech Innovators

Las Vegas' self driving bus shuttles passengers around the city.

Las Vegas' self driving bus shuttles passengers around the city. Page Light Studios /


Connecting state and local government leaders

Route Fifty's Tech Innovator Navigator Award finalists is an impressive group that is revolutionizing how communities handle everything from sewage to voting. We're excited to share the efforts of this impressive class of technologists with our readers.

So far this week, we have rolled out the 10 elected officials and 10 government leaders that are finalists for a 2018 Navigator Award.

Today, Route Fifty passes the halfway mark in the count to 50 finalists with “The Tech Innovators.” These 10 technology leaders in government are using technology not only to reduce costs, but to increase the ease with which their citizens interact with government and the world around them.

Here are the ten outstanding nominees who impressed us for making a difference in their community by harnessing technology:

Adam Boeche and Team, Water Reclamation Division, Village of Mundelein, Illinois
A focus on energy efficiency
In a village of 30,000, it’s often difficult to find the funds to integrate next generation technology into existing infrastructure. Boeche and his team were able to use energy efficiency performance contracting, a "self-funding" method that pays back a loan through the energy savings accrued. The effort has reduced the utility’s electricity cost by 39 percent since its completion, and they are not standing still. The team is exploring sewage treatment using algae, as well as disinfection methods that reduce environmental impact.

Ken Brubaker, Bicycle and Pedestrian Facility Engineer, Colorado Department of Transportation
Taking Big Data to transportation beyond four wheels
Transportation engineers have been harnessing data for motor vehicle traffic for years now. It informs planning and funding of our transportation routes across the nation. Brubaker decided it was time the big data approach was applied to bicycle and pedestrian mobility. With no playbook to go to, Brubaker developed and documented a process to analyze large data sets on bicycle use for the Colorado’s future planning efforts. He and his team harnessed data from Strava, a mobile fitness application, and correlated it with their own counter data. By utilizing the two together, Brubaker found a cost efficient way to estimate bicycle usage in various corridors, helping the state strategically plan future investments for biking and other non-motorized transportation. In addition, the work (available here) provides a model for understanding how to measure and plan for bicycle and pedestrian movements at a time when more people are choosing options beyond their automobiles.

Craig Cummings, Water Utilities Director, Arlington, Texas
Using Robots to analyze water infrastructure
The City of Arlington has 1,200 miles of sewers. The maintenance and conditions of an infrastructure that supports more than 380,000 residents and 14 million visitors each year is of the utmost important to the water utilities division. Working with the University of Texas at Arlington, Cummings and his team have utilized a multi-sensor robot to inspect 48 miles of the city’s sanitary large diameter sewer mains. The robot provides information on pipe fractures, wall thinning, debris deposits, and root intrusions with a high definition camera, lasers and sonar. From there, the data is turned into actionable reports by the university. The program has allowed Arlington to focus on replacing pipes that are proven in need repairs as opposed to making educated guesses based on the age or construction materials of the pipes. As a result, Arlington has saved millions on repairs and kept water costs 40 percent less than the state average.

Councilwoman Mamie Johnson and Dr. Joel English, City of Norfolk, Virginia
Inspiring students to take flight… with drones
The Fly Norfolk unmanned aerial vehicle training program is helping fulfill a shortage of skilled aviation and aerospace professionals, while helping savvy local high schoolers receive the chance to receive FAA drone operator certification. The effort was spearheaded by Dr. Joel English, Councilwoman Mamie Johnson and other leaders in the community who believed they could make a difference in the lives and livelihoods of their young citizens, while supporting a budding industry in dire need of more talented workers. Drone certification courses typically cost $1,000, but the Fly Norfolk students receive the training for free. Half of the students enrolled in Fly Norfolk come from a region of the city with the highest concentration of low income public housing. Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority helps transport the students to the facility English and Johnson helped establish in a formerly vacant public building. Sitting in Barraud Park on the Lafayette River, the building formerly served as had been the only recreation center for african americans in Norfolk during the era of segregation; today, it provides an ideal classroom and outdoor space for drone pilot training. The certification was included in several of the initial class of students college applications, and some are now studying STEM fields at the university level. Fly Norfolk has also led to the development of a course to train and certify first responders, fire and rescue, and police officers to become drone pilots. Fly Norfolk is now being replicated at Aviation Institute of Maintenance campuses across the nation.

Amber McReynolds, Director of Elections, City and County of Denver
Assuring voters that their vote will be counted
McReynolds is a savvy veteran of voting administration at a time we need them most. She is a finalist for her embrace of responsible technologies that help support voting. McReynolds gets credit for the design of Ballot Tracking, Reporting, And Communication Engine (or, Ballot TRACE, for short). The program allows voters to track ballots through text and email notifications that provide the status of their ballot at every step. Other election offices across the nation are beginning to adopt the technology, as well. The technology seems to have helped staff, as Denver's election call volume went down by over 90% after adoption. McReynolds has also developed another first-in-the-nation program, a digital petition and voter registration drive application. The program moved the process online, paving the way for eSignatures, and accessibility and language translation. Beyond the benefits for voters, it also made the petition process more efficient for candidates and campaigns seeking signatures. Candidates and campaigns who use the technology have a 27 percent higher acceptance rate than those that circulate paper petitions.

Nicole Raimundo and Team, Chief Information Officer and Team, Town of Cary, North Carolina
Growing technology savvy leads to citizen services and civic connections
Cary is rapidly recruiting new citizen interfaces into public service. Raimondo and her team have developed Alexa skills that allows citizens to find out about government services and submit tickets to agencies, a new text 311 service and a partnership with Waze that proactively allows them to show road closures and a new open data portal open to citizens. A smart cities “Living Lab” allows the town to demo smart technologies and prove them out on a small scale before considering larger adoption, including parking sensors and cameras that can count crowds. And they have no plans to rest, working with citizens and employees to identify the next generation of tools to harness in their community.

Shireen Santosham and Team, San José Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation
Working to bridge the digital divide
Shireen Santosham and her team in the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation are working to bridge the digital divide in the heart of Silicon Valley. Taking a data-based approach, the team worked with Stanford University and Community Connect Labs to assess how the unconnected population in San José ause the internet and perceived barriers to adoption. Leveraging public-private partnerships, the city is finding ways to eliminate the divide. Earlier this year, the city penned a unique deal with telecommunication companies for the deployment of small cell 5G networks that earmark city revenues from the lease agreements to digital inclusion projects. The city has also been working with school districts to provide students with internet connected devices they can bring home and has sealed a deal with Facebook to pilot its “Terragraph network,” which promises to provide wireless high-speed internet connectivity to the city.

Michael Sherwood, Director of Information Technology, City of Las Vegas
Autonomous Vehicle and Smart City Trailblazer
Self-driving vehicles, big data and smart city technology hold great promise, but cutting edge projects are often as much flair as practical substance. For the city of Las Vegas and their civic tech leader Sherwood, turning next generation technology awe into civic promise is what they are all about.The city has become a testing ground for how to integrate these cutting edge technologies.Sherwood has championed over 20 technology projects across the city, though their autonomous vehicle pilot program, which integrates a free self-driving public shuttle into the city’s intelligent traffic systems, has probably gotten the bulk of it. Long-term, the hope is the autonomous shuttle technology that is exciting tourists exploring the Fremont East Entertainment District becomes a sustainable public transit system for the region. Beyond autonomous vehicles, Sherwood and his team will continue to tinker with the rapidly deploying sensors around the city to reduce congestion, improve air quality and improve emergency response. In very Vegas fashion, the city hopes building the city of the future will be another tourism draw for a city already known for its spectacle.

Secretary Michael Wilkening and CHHS Open Data Workgroup, California Health and Human Services Agency
Open data at scale
The California Health and Human Services Agency oversees 12 Departments and four offices, employs nearly 30,000 staff and administers a budget of $160 billion. Wilkening and his open data team were responsible for deploying a open data portal across the entirety of that massive bureaucracy. The resulting open data portal provides journalists, interested citizens, researchers and advocates access to a valuable trove of health data. In addition, it has broken down barriers within the state of California government and allowed for broader data-driven decisionmaking in healthcare policy. The agency is able to leverage the data to build new partnerships with the private sector and non-profits, who are utilizing the data to inform citizens, deliver better care and build efficient services--from a web-based asthma visualization application, to an application that helps potential recipients of the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program. They are also partnering with major cities across the state to explore ways to leverage the portal and address local health challenges.