May 4, 2020

Nine Digital Innovations that Improve City Life Worldwide

This article is part of a series by students in the Sustainable Development program at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pensylvania (USA). The articles reveal snapshots of technology that is improving lives and environmental sustainability in the world’s cities. For more in the series:

Twelve Apps Making Cities Accessible to Travelers and Immigrants

Eight Innovations Changing Urban Mobility and Transportation

Ten Apps and Creative Technologies for Greener Urban Living

The city can be friendlier, safer, easier to navigate and more environmentally sustainable with a new breed digital technology. Mobile applications and connected devices are protecting vulnerable communities, empowering the visually impaired, introducing us to our neighbors and enticing urban explorers with augmented reality. These are nine smart innovations that are improving the quality of life worldwide.


Name: Nextdoor

Founded: 2011 in San Francisco, California

Nextdoor is a social networking service available in 11 countries that allows users to connect with their neighborhoods. With a focus on the local community, the platform encourages users to connect for services such as finding babysitters, selling items, local events, reviewing local businesses, and more. Nextdoor has about 27 million active monthly users and 236,000 defined neighborhoods.

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Name: Olio

Founded: 2015 in London, United Kingdom

Olio is a food-sharing mobile app that connects users with their neighbors and local businesses. Individuals and companies, such as food retailers and restaurants, can share their surplus by posting the food they have available on the app. Those that need food can request from the posts. With about 1.8 million users, users have shared almost 3.5 million portions of food and saved over 500 million liters of water and 10 million equivalent car miles.

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Name: Withlocals

Founded: 2013 in Eindhoven, the Netherlands

Withlocals is a self-described “peer-to-peer marketplace” where travelers can connect with a local of a city to receive a local experience they choose. These experiences can range from “The True Flavors of Germany in Berlin: 10 Tastings” to “Spiritual Experience: Buddhism, Monks & Rituals” in Bangkok, Thailand. With private, personalized tours in over 30 cities in Europe, Asia, and Africa, Withlocals aims to combat mass tourism and promote authentic experiences while improving the quality of life in cities. There are about 2221 private tours & activities worldwide.

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Name: Noonlight

Founded: 2013 at the University of Missouri

Noonlight is a safety mobile app that allows users to silently request help (i.e., 911 dispatchers and first responders) to their precise location with the press of a button. In just three steps, users feel safe knowing they can get emergency services immediately. Features include the ability to add friends to a Safety Network, the ability to share vital information with first responders, and the ability to connect to other apps such as Uber and Tinder. Popularized on college campuses, Noonlight has protected over 2 million people and handled tens of thousands of emergencies across the United States.

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Name: Safe & the City

Founded: 2018 in London, United Kingdom

Safe & the City is a personal safety navigation app that allows users in London to share and rate their walks, and also receive notifications during walks about any past reports and alerts. Users are provided with a live map of London highlighting areas where harassment has occurred, and can easily access emergency services and report whenever they feel unsafe.

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Name: Blindsquare

Founded: 2012 in Helsinki, Finland

Blindsquare is the world’s most popular GPS-accessible app developed for the blind and visually impaired. It uses voiceover technology to highlight detailed points of interest (i.e., sidewalks, doors, specific locations, etc.) and intersections while a user is walking to increase safe, reliable travel, inside and outside. With features that allow users to optimize information, filter locations, and mark current locations at various points, users can become increasingly independent. Blindsquare helps people all over the world and is available in several languages.

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Name: HomeLink

Founded: 1997

HomeLink is a car-to-home automation system that allows users to control garage doors, home lighting, thermostats, security systems, and other devices all from their car. With HomeLink Connect™, an automation app that can be used in and out of the car, users can control devices and systems at home from anywhere. HomeLink is used in tens of millions of cars worldwide.

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Name: Ingress

Founded: 2013 in San Francisco, California

Ingress is an augmented-reality mobile game that encourages users to explore. It uses the GPS on mobile device to locate “portals,” which are highlighted points of interest where “human creativity and ingenuity is expressed.” These could be monuments, public art, unique architecture, and more significant human developments. In the story of the game, these portals are said to have “Exotic Matter (XM).” Users are inspired by the words, “Fight for the side you believe in. Join the Enlightened and the struggle to channel XM and evolve humankind or enlist in the Resistance to control XM and oppose the mysterious forces behind it.” Through gamification, Ingress allows their millions of active players to interact with their cities, explore points of interest, and have fun at the same time.

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Name: IncludeHealth

Founded: 2009 in Columbus, Ohio

IncludeHealth™ is a platform that allows users to digitize their musculoskeletal services. Through IncludeCloud™ and IncludeConnect™, users can “seamlessly connect people, products, services and facilities into one cohesive system.” Sessions, documentation, and reports become automated, evidence-based data can be instantly captured on a device, and several other aspects can be integrated to track health and performance. IncludeHealth is working to transition from the traditionally laborious, inconsistent, and expensive forms of rehabilitation and wellness services.

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About the Author

Ugochi Amadi is a student of Civil Engineering, Global Studies, and Global Population Health at Lehigh University. 

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