Ive recently written about the global trend towards creating Smart Cities based on the idea of using the types of smart, connected technology which is making waves in industry and entertainment to improve public utilities, services and the quality of life in our towns and cities.
So I thought it would be interesting to look at a specific case studyand chose one which is particularly close to my heart, being my home city of Milton Keynes, England.
Milton Keynes has always been a forward-facing placeits a New Town after all, and has attracted significant investment from large national and international businesses which has created prosperity and growth. But of course with that growth come challenges.
Over the next 10 years or so, an additional 50,000 people are expected to move to the New Town, in the hope of sharing in that prosperity. This will boost the population from 0.25 million to 0.3 million people, and even for a town with relatively modern infrastructure such as Milton Keynes this is likely to cause problems in the delivery of public services.
To counter this, around three years ago Milton Keynes Council started to think seriously about how smart and connected, data-driven tech could ease the burden on services, improve quality of life, and reduce damage caused by human urban activity to the environment.
Although it was unsuccessful in their first attempts to acquire funding for a pilot project, it persevered and was eventually awarded an 8 million ($12.5 million) grant from the UK Higher Education Funding Council, which was match-funded by BT (British Telecom), which became a partner on the project, alongside the Open University.
Geoff Snelson, director of strategy at Milton Keynes Council and lead on the Future Cities program, told me Weve got sensors being deployed into recycling bins that show when theyre full, into car parking spaces, and into some of our local parks, which show footfall and things like water temp and soil moisture.
Internationally there is a real dearth of hard evidence about the benefits that these bring, and we are trying to correct that.
Many of the projects are already underway for example a partnership with energy provider E.On has seen homes being used to test a variety of energy saving technology, and a number of families are taking part in a trial to assess the viability of relying on electric cars for a year.
And later this year, the first driverless cars to be used in the UK will take to the streets of Milton Keynes for initial testing.
This will be done in a scaled way first monitoring the performance of the vehicle on closed stretches of road and pedestrianized areas to see how they cope with roundabouts and junctions without the distraction of other traffic. By the end of the three year trial period, they could be mingling and interacting (or hopefully, avoiding!) people-driven cars in sections of the town.
The Lutz cars are designed to carry two people plus luggage on short journeys, perhaps completing the last leg of a longer journey beginning on public transport, and travel at a top speed of 15 mph on roads or pedestrian surfaces. It is thought that the trial will eventually involve up to 40 of these pods.
Another project involves taking high definition satellite imagery and overlaying it with data from the planning department, to make sure the town is growing in the correct manner in-line with planning guidelines and local growth plans.
A sensor network has also been rolled out across all 80 of the councils neighbourhood recycling centres. In some places they fill up very quickly and the wagon cant get there fast enough. In others theyre turning up and looking under the lid and finding theres nothing there, so why did they bother?
A lot of these solutions are about delivering efficiencies by gathering better more timely and more accurate information. Its not voodoo just better information.
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