In the first wave of the internet people talked to one another, but in the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution it is everyday objects that are communicating with each other, and us.
The end goal is smarter homes, cars and cities in which objects can be monitored and controlled so journeys are quicker, energy consumption is reduced and people spend less money achieving more. The government has already helped to set up a Tech City programme to encourage digital business clusters to form and Glasgow was selected two years ago to be the example of what a smart city might look like.
Glasgow won 24m in government funding in 2013 to set up the Future City Glasgow programme, which is showcasing pilot studies in how everyday objects can talk to one another through a central data hub so the authorities can ease congestion and promote energy efficiency. It is cities like Glasgow, where the local authority is pioneering IoT projects, where it is believed the biggest advances will come through startups being attracted to the area. This is how clusters are built.
The role IoT can play in enabling cities to rise to the challenges of growth is best exemplified further south, in the new town of Milton Keynes. It is forecast to carry on growing, from around 250,000 today to more than 300,000 people in a decade. That will mean 60% more traffic and increased demand on utilities.
This has led to the MK:Smart project to build a smart city. Companies of varying sizes work together virtually, and through regular meetings, facilitated by University Campus Milton Keynes (UCMK). Paul Sant, associate dean at UCMK, says:
Weve reached out to around 40 or more companies who are working together, through us, to trial some very exciting new applications.
One project uses sensors to alert drivers to where there are spare parking spaces and were soon going to have autonomous pods taking people from the railway station to the main shopping area. Weve also got smart bins on trial which tell the refuse collectors when they need emptying and there are also smart sensors going into the water system so leaks are detected earlier.
Bristol opens up
Its a similar story with the Bristol Is Open project, which started this spring. It is one of ten cities which can connect to a new radio network being rolled out by Arqiva, the company behind the transmission networks for most of the countrys television and radio broadcasting. It is designed to allow objects to communicate over radio waves using less power and costing less than if a mobile network were used. According to Sean Weir, business development director for machine to machine (M2M) at Arqiva, it has so far been made available to Bristol, Birmingham, London, Leeds, Leicester, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
There are interesting projects all around the country but Bristol is one that stands out as offering the equivalent of a platform for a new type of city, its very exciting, says Weir.
Weve been doing a lot of work in smarter social care and housing. It allows authorities to keep an eye on their housing stock to make sure theyre running efficiently and the occupants arent being exposed to carbon monoxide and so on. In social care you can also make sure that a vulnerable person is up and about and appearing to be leading a normal day.
Although Cambridge is not on that list, it is home to computer chip designer ARM and internet of things experts CSR plc, which is due to be acquired by US chip-making giant Qualcomm later this year.
As such, the city is expected to develop a cluster that will most likely be centred on hardware and project management. Michael Barkway, head of IoT research and development at Cambridge-based firm The Technology Partnership, says he has been working on some groundbreaking projects through which local companies network and share ideas.
Weve developed street lighting that can monitor itself and, potentially, talk to traffic lights as well for better control and maintenance, he says. Weve also worked on smart sensors which cows ingest and then the dairy farmer can download data for each animals to make sure it is healthy. Weve got a lot of hardware history here in Cambridge so I suspect you wont hear a bunch of fluffy startup ideas which may or may not work coming out of the city, but its where much of the hardware and consulting are going to come from.
It will come as little surprise that London is already starting to look like developing an IoT cluster. One prime candidate is Level39, an incubator for technology companies owned by Canary Wharf Group. The head of Level 39, Eric Van der Kleij, believes there is a general, growing understanding that what was cutting edge a generation ago now needs supplementing with IoT technology to make it relevant for the next generation.
City authorities and property developers know were moving from infrastructure to infostructure, he says.
The government has helped hugely with its Tech City programme and were running an incubator here as well as our Cognicity Challenge competition to identify the most promising Internet of Things technologies which will allow people like us to build smarter work places and cities where we can save money and achieve more. One company with us, Voyage Control, allows businesses to track trucks and manage deliveries so you dont get the current issue of around a third of trucks being empty, causing congestion without actually having anything to deliver.
The proof that IoT startups are on the verge of forming clusters across the country will come when early momentum builds up the numbers. In the case of London and Level39, Van der Kleij expects that within a year, perhaps two, the current ratio of 20 IoT startups out of 173 tech companies will approach 50:50. The next couple of years is going to be vital in IoT, as it becomes clear which locations are able to turn promising early interest into a fully-fledged cluster.
Source: The Guardian
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