Skip to content Skip to navigation

Digital Cities Seed Proposal Application

Request for Seed Proposals from Stanford Faculty

Issued by the Global Projects Center (GPC) for Research Supporting GPC’s new Digital Cities Initiative

Issued: September 20, 2017

Letters of Intent to Submit submissions are Due: October 9
Full Proposal submissions are Due: November 28, 2017


This Global Projects Center’s call for Digital Cities proposals is open to Stanford faculty performing new research that will support the Global Projects Center’s Digital Cities mission to sense, integrate, anonymize, protect and analyze big data from multiple sources in urban settings to enhance the quality of life for urban citizens, while creating new commercial opportunities for existing and new businesses.  GPC expects to award several grants through this call. Each grant is meant to promote early stage high-risk, high-reward research projects with seed funding of up to $100,000 per year for an initial period of one year, renewable for a second year.

Background on GPC Digital Cities Initiative

GPC’s new Digital Cities research initiative creates a focused research effort bringing together cross-disciplinary expertise including data analytics, institutional investment on urban sustainability, and exploration of how emerging technologies will change the way we think about business model development for government and enterprises engaged in digitalization of urban centers. Collaboration with GPC corporate affiliates can assist with market connection and validation, provide access to data, and generate new ways of transforming disruption into competitive advantage.

Unlike many “smart city” initiatives, the Stanford Digital Cities program focuses on helping commercial enterprises to become aware of disruptive technologies that could create opportunities for revenue growth and other opportunities. Our focus is on our corporate members and their commercial markets in urban centers. Examples of these markets include data capture, transmission and analytics for autonomous vehicles, new visual modeling for commercial real estate development, and predictive analytics for insurance and health care. Our premise is that it will be the commercial companies that recreate urban living through their technology initiatives. Companies like Uber, Tesla, AirBNB and Amazon are part of that reshaping of the digital urban environment. City governments are likely to play “catch up” to these developments versus driving digitalization of urban environments.

Five Key Themes

We are inviting proposals this year in five major areas of research elaborated below that have been prioritized by our affiliates. Proposals in these areas will be more likely to be funded, but we welcome creative proposal ideas on other topics that could contribute to our overarching goals laid out in the Introduction above.

1.   Enhancing a Visual Digital City Modeling Platform
WSP (formerly WSP|Parsons) is a multi-billion-dollar civil engineering consultancy focused on global mega-infrastructure projects. They are currently designing and managing the new Seattle tunnel to replace the seismically unsafe and obsolete Alaska Way Viaduct. They also engineered several floating bridges in he Seattle Area. WSP has invested $20M in developing an advanced visual city modeling platform that captures the entire infrastructure of the city of Seattle including underground utilities and IoT sensor locations in 3D over time (“4D”).  This visual modeling platform makes it possible to view and run What If scenarios not just of the entire city's infrastructure, but also of human activities. Multiple historical and real-time data sets data from IoT sensors and other sources can be loaded into the model to examine traffic, commuting patterns, retail transactions, transportation efficiency, utility supply, commercial zoning, and many other attributes, using both real time as well as static and historical data.  WSP will make this model available to GPC researchers and corporate affiliate members to create prototypes of vertical applications based on the platform that will create new insights and monetization opportunities.

Seed research in this area will exploit the underlying model data and visual representation capabilities of the platform, leveraging real-time data with predictive analytics and computing power to explore developing new insights. In addition, research can focus on developing new business models to exploit these insights by evolving new vertical applications. Seed research in this area could use data on pedestrian and vehicle movement patterns from  streetlight sensors as well as information gathered by autonomous vehicles technologies, transit cards and mobile phones.  Sedd projects an also explore the commercial value of digitalization within a region through several dimensions. This spans from direct commercial effects, such as the possibility to conduct commercial transactions on transportation systems, to indirect impacts on the overall economy e.g., provided by shorter commute times and increased accessibility.

We plan to invite Amazon to work with GPC, joining our program and the research project to guide the planning and use of its 13-city block campus by modeling their campus in the larger 3D city modeling platform and applying analytics to data about their intended use of the space.  

2.   Digitally-Enabled Urban Farming
Traditionally food has been cultivated outside of cities with wasteful cultivation, harvesting and especially distribution methods, to the detriment of the environment. One of the most important logistical issue for future cities to resolve, especially in emerging market countries like India, is to enable the production of large quantities of sustainable, high quality food cultivation and distribution for their rapidly urbanizing populations using as little scarce land, water and energy as possible, and with minimum spoilage of the food in transit to the consumer. Urban Indoor Farming in warehouses has become a potential solution to many of the production and distribution inefficiencies of traditional farms, while also being rapidly scalable and adaptable to growing urban populations and their increasing food consumption demands. Some keys to large scale indoor farming becoming cost effective are enhanced sensing, analysis and robotic automation for growing and harvesting food crops. We invite proposals in this area, and can make connections for researchers to venture investors and startups in this area that can explain their need for enhanced sensing, control and robotics technologies in all phases of their urban farming processes.

3.   New Financial Platforms As we begin to look at the new financial platforms, what can we expect in terms of disruption to the existing industry business models. How will financial transactions evolve as autonomous vehicles emerge as networked mobile platforms enable the potential for a real-time urban data layer in cities that is continuously updated? As companies like Amazon begin to do transactions in cars, unifying data from the home, the smartphone, and now the car, what can we expect the future model of financial transactions to be like in this new world? These new financial platforms will be a disruptive force for the financial services and commercial real estate industries. We invite proposals in this area.

4.   Cyber Security for Urban Data Sets and Analytics Platforms
Cities and companies will face enormous pressures to protect data sets that cross the urban data layers. As we begin to look at new technologies, we see the emergence of new standards to manage content and data. Seed research on Content Centric Networking, Query into Encrypted Data, and Privacy-Preserving Analytics could point the way to solutions for today’s critical problems around security and privacy of urban data. We invite proposals for research that can help us begin to understand what priorities we should focus on and what is the strategy around each of the technologies we have outlined?

5.   Advanced Material Science – Sensing, Imaging, Meta Materials, and Low-Cost Fabrication
Advances in material science are changing the way we think about everything from low-cost fabrication and deployment of IoT sensors, semi-conductors and PVs, to new ways to deal with reducing urban temperatures by changing the physics of materials for roofing and façade applications. The data captured from these materials makes it possible to dramatically increase the breadth of coverage within a city. In addition, new directed beam and other data communication technologies can change how we transmit terabytes of sensed data from moving vehicles over an entire urban area into the cloud–making it possible, e.g., to scan and analyze the condition of building facades and other objects within cities in real time for predictive maintenance or for safety assessment after a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake. One could envision building roofing covered by new materials or infrastructure using metamaterials technology to “self-report” wear and tear. What new opportunities are likely to emerge from Advanced Materials Science and how will all of this evolve to create enhanced citizens’ safety, access and quality of life, along with new commercial opportunities within urban centers?

Predictive Analytics in All of these Areas

Analysis of large heterogeneous, numerical, textual, visual, and other data sets is at the center of all of these initiatives. AI-based analytics will be a critical element of almost every platform – from the WSP Visual Modeling System to work on advanced material sciences. How do we develop a framework to use this data to create new insights and opportunities? What should we consider as we develop these platforms and how does data create insight into enhance quality of life for citizens and new business opportunities for startups and existing businesses?

Spirit of GPC’s Digital Cities Seed Research Program

The GPC seed research project program is designed to launch proof of concept projects that can explore exciting new ideas related to digital cities that provide initial evidence and focus for writing larger and longer- term research grants for sponsored research to one or more GPC Affiliates and/or to external research funding agencies such as DoE, DoT, DoD, NSF, NIH, DARPA, HEW, etc.

The review process will prioritize proposals that address the areas described above but will consider other proposals with exciting ideas in the broad area of exploiting big data in digital cities to enhance urban citizens’ quality of life and to create new commercial opportunities. Research groups for which GPC seed funding for the proposed research would be incremental to funding already available, or for which the research is already sufficiently advanced to be a good candidate for other funding, are less likely to be selected.

Proposal Submission and Review Process

Letter of Intent to Submit

Faculty members who intend to submit a proposal should provide a brief letter of intent by 5 PM PDT on Oct 9, 2017. The submission should describe the project in a paragraph. This description will allow us to determine rapidly whether you will be asked to submit a full proposal. 

If you have a proposal idea and would like a judgment on how well it fits within this solicitation’s goals, or if you would like more information on the WSP Digital City model, please contact: Michael Steep at or Ray Levitt at

Proposal Submission

Full proposals (format and submission instructions described below) are due by November 28, 2017. Proposed budgets need not be routed through OSR for this internally funded research. Once the funding has been awarded a budget will need to be routed thru SeRA. Proposals must be self-contained with no links to additional information.

Proposal Format

●      The proposal is subject to a five-page limit with fonts no smaller than 11 point. This includes the text, figures, tables, and references.

●      The budget and budget justification are limited to three additional pages.

●      Each Principal Investigator who will be associated with the proposed work should submit a brief background limited to one additional page per PI or Co-PI.

Proposal Review

The objective of the review process is to identify high quality projects that are consistent with the goals of this solicitation.  The proposals will be screened for relevance and then reviewed by a committee of GPC Affiliates and faculty with expertise related to the areas of research but who are not involved in the proposed projects. The opinions of additional experts at Stanford or outside of it may be sought, with the requirement that the reviewer maintain the confidentiality of the proposed research.


It is anticipated that awards based on this solicitation will be announced by November 15, 2017, and projects selected for award may begin on January 1, 2018 or thereafter. Award decisions do not require further approval.

Project Funding, Duration

Expected funding for each proposed seed project is up to $100,000 for one year, potentially renewable for a second year, provided that a sponsored project proposal based on the first year’s work has been submitted by the seed proposal deadline for 2018, and subject to the availability of funds. One no-cost-extension for the duration of up to one year past the original end date of the award may be requested.

The source of funding is gift funds; therefore, no project may charge indirect costs, even if non- Stanford investigators would complete some part of the project. The budget should include direct costs plus the university infrastructure burden of 8%. Awarded projects will be funded through a newly created and designated PTA(s) less the 8% infrastructure charge; the infrastructure charge for the award will be paid directly by GPC. Budgets should identify the level of effort committed to the project. Principal Investigator (PI) effort is not required on University Research awards.

Dissemination of Results of Research

This is intended to be pre-commercial seed research; it is expected that the results of this research will be openly published and available for use by GPC affiliates and others.  Inventions from follow-on sponsored research will be assigned to Stanford University for licensing, with a first right of refusal to the sponsor/s and then to others.

Required Reports

PIs of funded projects will be required to prepare an interim progress report at the end of the initial year of funding. At the end of the final year, a short final summary report, full technical report, and presentation materials will be required.  Project PIs and students will be expected to participate in research portfolio program activities, annual technical review sessions, workshops in related areas, and other activities that report on the research being performed. Second year funding will be evaluated based on year one progress and is contingent upon the submission of the year one interim progress report and the preparation of a sponsored project proposal to one or more affiliate members or an outside agency. Requests for a No Cost Extension need to be submitted 3 months prior to the end date of the award for consideration and all reports must be up to date. The remaining unspent balance on the award will be transferred back to the awarding center during the closeout process.

Interim and/or final Reports must be current for all projects in order to apply for either future grants or a no-cost extension involving a PI or Co-PI. Papers/abstracts and project summaries may be posted on the GPC website.


For technical issues or questions please contact: Michael Steep at or Raymond Levitt at For questions associated with the seed grant submission process please contact: Terra Strong:

Reminder of Deadlines

Letters of Intent (LOIs) are due by 5 PM on Oct. 9, 2017.  Upload your LoI here.

After receiving approval for a Letter of Intent, PIs should upload their FULL PROPOSAL by 5PM on November 28th, 2017 here.

Please note that the primary Principal Investigator (PI) must be a Stanford faculty member and be eligible per Stanford policy. Preference will be given to projects that build capability at Stanford, but projects that absolutely require collaboration with an investigator outside Stanford will be considered.