We built this City

Cisco has 9 Innovation Centers around the World, primarily focused on innovation within IoT. These centers are setup to do rapid prototyping with customers and startups and to invest in companies and accelerators and partner with relevant institutions and universities of the region. At Emerge, we always keep an eye out for innovation happening all across Cisco. Turns out there’s a bunch of cool stuff going on around the World. An Emerge team member took a trip to Tokyo and Seoul/Songdo to visit the Innovation Centers, and here are a few highlights from her trip to Songdo in South Korea.


The Cisco IoT Innovation Center is located in Songdo, about an hour drive from central Seoul (~2 hours drive factoring in confused taxi drivers...). Songdo is insane! Basically it’s one of the World’s first specially designed Smart Cities, where everything is connected. A city where sensors monitor things like energy use, noise, temperature, density and traffic flow, where residents can control the functions of their homes remotely and everyone is able to interact through video from anywhere. An IoT city.

Songdo is ambitious. It's a $35 billion private real estate project that will contain 80,000 apartments, 50 million square feet of office space, and 10 million square feet of retail space. South Korea is very densely populated and when the idea and concept for Songdo came about around 2001, there was no land to build it. So, as the great entrepreneurial spirits they are, the South Koreans simply made new land and reclaimed fifteen hundred acres from the sea.

A Telepresence sewing club

Cisco invested $2bn in the Songdo effort and powers a lot of the IoT infrastructure behind the city. There are 1,500 SX10 and SX20 Telepresence units in Songdo households, set to grow to 15,000 units next year. People are still a little freaked out by having a TP unit in their living room but some successes are starting to show. People are forming small communities like sewing groups or English tutoring for kids by teachers from Hawaii. All enabled by the TP unit in your the room.

The Innovation Center

Being located in Songdo, the Cisco Innovation Center is doing a ton of work to make this Smart City a success, enabling startups and Cisco customers to leverage the city as a launch pad for innovation. Apart from the Customer Showcase center they have set up, another cool project driven by the Innovation Center is the opening of an IoT Cube this last Saturday. The Cube is a first milestone on the way to creating connected streets in Songdo and is a great example of startups leveraging Cisco technology, e.g. Cisco’s fog computing platform, Cisco IP cameras and more to build cool and useful products for the Smart City. Saturday's winner was Lineable, a smart wristband to prevent kids from going missing.

An IoT Playground

Building a city from scratch is hard. Songdo is taking some heat as people notice the streets and office buildings are still feeling a little empty and some of the smart stuff didn’t turn out to be as smart as everyone thought.

But there’s a huge opportunity in Songdo. Similar to startups that will never launch an overnight success, you can't expect to build a city and hit product/market fit instantly. But that's the time to keep testing, iterating and to stay focused on the grand plan.

Songdo is an IoT playground. Over 35,000 households and even more businesses designed to test new technology that might become part of the cities and offices of the future. It’s literally a test bed for anything IoT related and Cisco is deeply involved, powering a lot of what’s going on. It’s a perfect opportunity to test assumptions and validate new ideas.

The Innovation Center is already working with startups to do the same, specifically through the very cool SparkLabs, South Korea's hottest startup accelerator/incubator.


as for the Smart City, even though the streets are a little empty and taxi drivers still have trouble finding their way around the land that used to be ocean, I can report back that the beer and the Korean BBQ is awesome and that Cisco is becoming a huge driving force in creating the cities of the future from scratch.

Meet Emerge

We’re a new innovation team in Cisco focused entirely on the future of work and collaboration. This blog is a way for us to share our experiments and observations directly from the engine room of an innovation team in a large company.

We know that if we don't disrupt ourselves, a startup in a garage somewhere will do that for us. We know that we need to make sure we're as fast and experimental as any 10 person startup team looking to transform industries and workflows. In a world where it now can take less than 3 years to build a billion dollar business, staying ahead of the curve has never been more important.

So, who are we?

We’re a team of designers, builders, product people and technology fans. Our focus is in the software cloud but we aim to make advances in other areas, such as IoT, hardware products, artificial intelligence and other new technologies relevant to our space. Innovation is absolutely about big ideas, and about aiming so high that it seems crazy. It’s not all about that, though. We hope you’ll notice that we care deeply about radically simplifying user experiences and creating products that people will love to use every single day.

What can you expect from us

All our experiments are in absolute beta mode. Keep in mind that everything is highly experimental at this stage. We’re working on things that won’t become products right away (and some may just be interesting experiments that never go anywhere), but we are aiming to turn a lot of these experiments into great Cisco products in the future. And we’ll channel the lessons learned into new and existing products.