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UK’s 5 Smartest Cities

UK's 5 Smartest Cities
UK's 5 Smartest Cities
The UK is embracing smart city technologies and IoT. One city after another is implementing smart city programmes in an attempt to optimise day-to-day life and city management. Today we are looking at UK 5 top smart cities and their achievements.

Harnessing Big Data and smart city technologies to manage and control our ever-growing cities is becoming an urgent issue.

Cities are rapidly turning into extremely complex multi-level formations. Their running costs are going up while the efficiency is creeping down. At the same time we – urban residents – have higher and higher expectations of the services and the quality of urban life.

Smart city technologies offer great solutions for cities to become successful and efficient urban environments.

Let’s look at  how UK’s cities have taken up the challenge to deploy IoT, Big Data, and become smart. For obvious reasons (i.e. a fair competition) London hasn’t been included in our list.

Here are Vox Urban’s top smartest cities in the UK.

5. Manchester

Salford Quays - Manchester
Salford Quays – Manchester

In December last year Manchester celebrated winning a competition for the UK’s Internet of Things City Demonstrator, awarded by The Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

Manchester’s entry – Project CityVerve – is a truly ambitious vision to create a connected city where every aspect of life from energy consumption to traffic, to NHS appointments and consultations, are managed through smart city technologies.

Under the scheme sensors will be added to street lamps, parking bays, traffic lights, vehicles, heating equipment, etc. Using Wi-Fi and broadband the sensors will be collecting and passing data to Cisco’s City Data Platform and BT’s Data Hub where it will be analysed to help manage the city in a more efficient way.

The CityVerve project includes:

  •  A ‘biometric sensor network’ to manage chronic respiratory conditions in patients
  • A network of sensors positioned in parks, along commuter and school routes to track the physical activity of individuals and teams
  • Talkative bus stops which will allow passengers to let bus operators know they are waiting
  • Smart lighting to improve safety along pedestrian routes
  • Bike sharing on the Oxford Road Corridor
  • Smart air-quality monitoring on lamp posts

Manchester is already getting its smart lighting network in place. Around 56,000 LED light units are being installed around the city. The network is centrally controlled and dimmable. It allows the operators to increase the lighting where necessary. Also the police will be able to increase light levels for CCTV purposes. Smart lighting does not only make the city safer, it also saves a huge amount of energy, reduces running costs and carbon output.

Digital Manchester offers its visitors a brilliant MiGuide – an on-street wayfinding solution with digital screens providing advertising on one side, and wayfinding on the other side.

Last year Transport for Greater Manchester in collaboration with Open Source Initiative and other partners launched the TravelSpirit programme to promote a connected transport system for the future.

Google is testing its new Beacon technology across the city. Beacons – mini transmitters that can automatically talk to mobile devices – provide local relevant two-way communication. They can also take payments, process reservations and send a URL to any device.

Based on this technology Manchester’s developers Sparta have launched an app called Buzzin. It can not only provide travel updates, but also has a “one button click” to pay for travel and related deals. This is currently being trialled on the Burnley to Manchester route.

Manchester is also involved in the project Triangulum. Triangulum is a European scheme that tests IoT technologies across European cities. Triangulum will transform the ‘Manchester Corridor’ student district in Manchester into a ‘smart quarter’ and a testbed for a smart green growth.

4. Birmingham

Birmingham at Night
Birmingham at Night

Birmingham’s Smart City Roadmap is an ambitious and visionary plan aimed to use smart city technologies to turn Birmingham into a super connected city with great benefits to the residents, businesses, social services and education.

The plan is to develop intelligent and integrated services through the use of digital technologies, data and open collaboration. It sets out over 35 actions that aim to tackle unemployment, the skills gap, health inequalities, effective mobility and carbon reduction targets in three themed areas: Technology and Place, People and the Economy.

Today Birmingham is pushing to be recognised as one of the most advanced digital cities in the UK. The city has been included in this year Digital Leaders 100 listing and nominated for an award in the ‘Digital Council of the Year’ category for Birmingham City Council.

The scope of projects being implemented in Birmingham is truly impressive.

Wireless connectivity, 4G and broadband are connecting the city into one mighty network. Open data digital platform supports digital creative industries; start-ups have access to finance, expert advice and a network of like-minded individuals.

Birmingham Connected is bringing railways, roads and cycling and walking routes under one umbrella to make journeys across the city much more pleasant and efficient.

media eye
Birmingham’s Media Eye. Image source: www.oceanoutdoor.com

Residents will be able to make use of the apps to calculate the best route, see the congested parts of the city, learn about public transport availability and available parking spaces.

Birmingham is one of the 6 major European cities where the City4Age project will be tested. Through wearable technologies and locality apps the project will help elderly people with Mild Cognitive Impairment to get around their locality, offering just-in-time interventions that might encourage greater interaction and stimulate physical and mental exercise.

Birmingham Digital Logbook assists social housing tenants to manage their finance, rent, and employment opportunities. Through the Logbook they have access to a Budgeting tool, debt advice, CV creator, Universal Job Match, employment opportunities, training courses, etc.

New Street Station has become a showcase of a digital Birmingham. The station which is now also a state-of-the-art shopping mall, is equipped with digital interactive screens that provide information on train times, nearby locations and destinations. The screens also inform visitors about multiple transport modes available for journeys across the city thus increasing public transport use and reducing the carbon footprint.

Three Media Eyes – uniquely shaped full motion digital screens above the main entrances to the mall– give information about the events across the city along with commercial advertising. The eyes will soon be equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi and a face recognition technology to deliver more targeted adverts and information.

There are also multiple projects relating to the IoT, geospatial regeneration and community engagement being tested now.

3. Glasgow

Glasgow - Scotland
Glasgow – Scotland

In 2013 Glasgow became the official winner of the UK Government’s Future City Demonstrator competition.

The prize they took back home was a substantial: £24m from the Technology Strategy Board (now known as Innovate UK) to explore innovative ways to use technology and data to make life in the city safer, smarter and more sustainable. That’s where the Future City Glasgow project began.

Future City Glasgow has spent much of the £24m prize on a state-of-the-arts Operations Centre that accumulates and manages data on everything from traffic trouble spots to potholes and uncollected bins.

The Operations Centre collects data through Public Space CCTV, delivering security for the city council’s museums and art galleries, traffic management and police intelligence. It also provides a co-ordinated, real-time, intelligence-led response to large and small incidents across the city.

There are no WOW visual type effects in Glasgow’s current smart city developments. The main secrets are discreet and hidden in the fabric of the city.

There are intelligent street lights that get brighter when they detect pedestrians and cyclists and dimmer if there is less activity. The lights send signals to the Operations Centre reporting if they need maintenance, informing about air pollution levels and weather details.

Sensors hidden under the road surface send signals about traffic intensity and let the Operations Centre adjust traffic lights to aid better traffic flow.

The CCTV cameras around the city are high-definition, wireless and report directly to the Operations Centre. They are a vital part of managing accidents and emergency situations.

Glasgow is all mapped out on different levels: interactive visitors’ maps with sightseeing and points of interest, walking tours, cycle routes, activities, community clubs, shops.etc.

Future City Glasgow has a bold vision about what’s coming.

Every aspect of the day-to-day city life will be managed and monitored from the Operations Centre. Energy use will be closely monitored across the city. During a daily surge of power consumption, such as in the morning when kettles and toasters come into action all at once, the power will be diverted form offices where it’s not needed to residences.

Events management system will monitor traffic, crowding and community safety during events helping to prevent traffic jams and accidents.

The traffic flow will be monitored in real time and when it’s about to get too heavy, warnings will be sent out to the traffic participants together with alternative routes.

Public transport will send signals about its current schedule and availability in real time.

All Council services will be provided through one simple app that will manage everything from a bin collection to a planning application submission.

Glasgow has a solid platform on which to build its smart city strategy, it now needs to push for the planned projects to be implemented and become a reality.

2. Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes is another success story in terms of deploying IoT and smart city technologies.

It comes from the necessity to find the ways for the city to continue to grow within the bounds of existing infrastructure. One obvious answer is the more efficient use of the existing assets. It is only possible to achieve the efficient use through smart managing, data streaming and analysis, and monitoring.

In 2014 together with the Open University and other partners Milton Keynes Council launched MK: Smart project.

Under the scheme, a city-wide open access network for Machine to Machine (M2M) communications and the IoT is being built. A network of Weightless base stations is being installed to provide coverage across the city for low power, connected sensors – the first of its kind in the UK. The data collected through the sensors is transmitted to MK Data Hub.

In November 2014 a bin network called netBin became the Hub’s first information supplier. It sent the data from one of the Milton Keynes’ recycling points to warn when the bins were full.

Smart Cars in Milton Keynes
Smart Cars in Milton Keynes. Image Source: www. mksmart.org

Now the Hub is supporting and managing all kind of data relevant to city systems: local and national open data repositories; data from energy, transport, water, weather and pollution data, satellite data, crowdsourced data, etc.

Among the smart city projects is a pilot launched to manage the use of short-term parking spaces at Milton Keynes railway station. Sensors installed in each parking bay monitor arrivals and departures and send the data to the Hub, which after processing displays parking bay availability on public dashboards and on an overlay for Google maps.

This simple parking technology gave birth to the MotionMap App. The app makes it possible for the users to see how busy the shops are, where they can park, which route is better to take, and even whether the bus they want to take is too full and it’s better to wait for the next one while enjoying a coffee.

It can also trace public transport and enables you to buy a ticket for the coming bus with one click.

As well as effectively managing essential day-to-day city’s needs, MK Data Hub also supports business growth.

The Hub runs the Urban Startup Lab programme – a complete support programme where both technical and business experts show SMEs how to benefit from the availability of Milton Keynes city data.

In September 2015 the city started first trials of self-driving pods as a part of the Low Carbon Urban Transport Zone (LUTZ) programme. Three LUTZ Pathfinder pods are being used in the pedestrianised areas of the city centre and so far have been a great hit with the residents.

Milton Keynes LUTZ Pathfinder trials will form a base for a three-year UK Autodrive programme that will involve a fleet of 40 pods as well as regular road-based cars operating in Milton Keynes and Coventry.

1. Bristol

Bristol UK's leading smart city
Bristol UK’s leading smart city

Bristol has been named as the winner of the global ‘Smart City Innovator’ ‘award at the TM Forum Live! 2016 – Digital World Awards.

Bristol Is Open – Bristol’s Smart City Project – is indeed a star among similar projects across the UK. It’s visionary, bold, ambitious and imaginative.

The project is running on an incredibly powerful infrastructure: the high-speed fibre network, 4G connection, “mesh” network bouncing off of 1,500 lamp-posts across the city, Bristol University’s £12m supercomputer and a new city operating system that stores and analyses the data.

The city has become a giant laboratory looking at how big data can be used to solve problems such as air pollution traffic congestion and assisted living for the elderly. The network is also used to collect and understand data from the city’s trial of self-driving cars.

The data is collected through the sensors all over the city, but also through the residents’ mobile devices.

Bristol has intelligent lighting and carparks; the city’s refuse vehicles are alerted to high levels of waste; and drivers and emergency services are warned instantly about traffic jams and accidents. Special sensors record the temperature of the road surface to let the gritting crews know which areas need gritting.

Bristol is participating in the REPLICATE project supported by the European Commission. This 5-year project in East Bristol is exploring the impact of integrating Smart Energy and Smart Transport interventions.

Bristol Is Open is an open city data platform. It now hosts nearly 200 data sets including many that are real time. The platform is expanding to include data from the Environment Agency and Health. Innovators and developers are actively encouraged to participate in open data competitions, hackathons and challenges focussing on environmental themes, energy, transport and mobility.

The first open data competition resulted in a great app ‘Hills are Evil’ that helps create accessible route maps for people with limited mobility.

Another app Crocodile, that encourages walking to school, won the Green Digital Challenge.

It’s not all about serious matters. Bristol is building a playable city. The Playable City concept puts people, fun and social dialogue at the heart of the city. A playable city is visual, democratic, surprising, and inclusive. It connects people to people and people to the city.

Using the new speeds Bristol is planning to play with creative content flowing through the network. It will be possible, for example, to project 3D images into the night sky or to hold a music concert across multiple venues in the city at the same time.

Bristol’s ‘Hello Lamp Post’ project, launched in 2013, invited the people of Bristol to have a conversation with lamp posts, post boxes, bus stops and other familiar street furniture, by texting the unique codes found on each object. The code allowed the passers-by to ‘wake up’ a sleeping object and discover what it had to say. Each exchange lasted for just a few messages before the user was asked to come back and talk some more another day. The more people played, the more the hidden life of the city was revealed.

Urbanimals: Rabbit. Image by Paul Blakemore www.paulblakemore.co.uk

In 2014 another playable city project was launched in Bristol – Shadowing. Shadowing is about city lights that have memory. They can record and play back the shadows of those who passed underneath. The Shadowing streetlights capture the movements of pedestrians passing beneath and echo them back as shadows to the next passer-by, leaving a glimpse of those who walked the same path moments before. If a visitor stepped out of the light to watch for a while, the lamp would begin to ‘dream’, recalling a procession of shadows from earlier visitors.

Last year Bristol was overrun by a pack of wild creatures – Urbanimals. A digital dolphin, a rabbit, a beetle and a kangaroo were hiding in dark corners waiting for the passers-by to play with them. The moment they were discovered they moved around dancing and playing with their watchers.

Bristol’s imaginative, helpful and playful concept of a smart city also impressed Navigant researchers. In their study of UK smart cities Bristol has come a runner-up to London.

Cities of the future are not only efficient and data rich, they are attractive and engaging. That’s why Bristol is leading in a smart city race.

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