Web Services for Mother Earth: Living PlanIT's Vision for Data-Driven Cities

Steve Lewis wants to use data for good. His company, Living PlanIT, works with hundreds of partners to create sustainable cities and improve business and construction efficiency.

Living PlanIT aims to bring high tech tools to the construction industry to help create sustainable, data-driven cities. We wrote about one such city in Portugal, where each building within the city will be able to plug into the network, tracking everything from water usage to traffic congestion.

Lewis was inspired when he noticed that while many large-scale manufacturing industries like aerospace and automotive had begun using technology to streamline manufacturing efficiencies, the construction industry seemed more focused on design aesthetics.

“We’re a classic tech company,” he says, “we just happen to be building a city.”

Lewis and co-founder Malcolm Hutchinson are Microsoft alumni, and Lewis often uses .NET as an analogy to illustrate how Living PlanIT operates. He sees the company like a web service platform developers (both the coder and brick and mortar types) can tap into to create smarter products.

Although building cities from the ground up is no small endeavor, Lewis says building with the networked sensor technology can be cheaper than retrofitting existing structures. More new cities and collaborations with existing cities are in the works, including Las Vegas.

Businesses within this kind of city could benefit from being tapped into the data grid. A store owner might not care about what technology powers his shop, but he does care about what his customers are doing. With Living PlanIT’s help, the physical space can be built to be interactive, collecting data from sensors and displaying content to customers. Store owners could find out where customers were before they entered the store, what brought them inside and what items they looked at.

The company chose not to take venture capital and makes the most of its money through intellectual property royalties it charges partners, as well as through renting out space in its future cities. Partners pay an annual fee that varies from €100,000 for major players to as low as €5,000 for smaller companies. Cities can serve as incubators, helping bring companies’ technologies to the market and sharing revenue.

Living PlanIT is not yet profitable, but although Lewis declined to share numbers, he said the company expects to break even in the third quarter of next year. 370 companies currently work with Living PlanIT, and Lewis expects the number to grow to 12,000 by the end of 2014. The company currently employs 70 people, planning to grow to 150-200 employees by year’s end.