Imagine you were travelling from Manchester to London. Would you take the train or the coach? Would you drive or, if you’re feeling particularly energetic and have some days to spare, would you even consider walking?
There are many ways to reach a destination, and a journey can be long or short. But just because you’ve chosen one particular path doesn’t mean you need to stick to it. Mistakes and bad decisions are par for the course in any walk of life. But the trick is in recognising when to make to a change and the impact it could have.
For that reason, CityVerve held a Course Correction day for the eight small and medium-sized enterprises that successfully pitched their plans to use Internet of Things technology back in March.
Taking place at the £14 million Bright Building in the heart of Manchester Science Park, they openly shared their progress with stakeholders from Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and property company Bruntwood.
“It was a way for them to come out and say, ‘this is what we’re developing for CityVerve’,” says Paul Finch, co-founder of Growth Studio, a company which specialises in helping businesses better mould their ideas.
Finch oversaw the event which brought together Pathway AI, CitySwifter, See.Sense, Voltaware, Qbots, Entelligently, Unifi.id and Ultra IOT. The companies were split into two groups: one covering Travel and Transport, and the other looking at Energy and Environment.
“The idea was to give them feedback, looking at any clangers or missed opportunities in the ideas and at how their ideas could be made valuable to their target organisation,” Finch adds. “We wanted to see solid ideas emerge from their presentations and the follow-up Q&As.”
On the road to success
Much progress appears to have been made. Daniel Jaenicke, founder of Pathway AI, is hoping to make bus drivers safer and smarter by analysing their driving and feeding the information back to bus companies.
He explained how this would be achieved through a mix of computer vision, artificial intelligence and machine learning. “We can identify 60 points of information,” he said, adding that the three-man company has also built a video feature that is able to reinforce positive driver behaviour.
At the same time, however, Daniel said he understood the need for his business to go slow and steady. “We wouldn’t want to deal with so much data that we would become swamped,” he admitted. He also acknowledged the potential HR hurdles the idea would have to overcome.
There was concern from some companies relying on external data that some of that information was proving slow to come through. “Getting data is very hard,” said Chris Cooper of Entelligently. The company wants to make office buildings more comfortable by encouraging workers to use an app to give feedback on their environment. Smart nudges, or “snudges”, then suggest action they can take.
Paul Sheedy, founder and CEO of Unifi.id, meanwhile, has spoken of having his mind opened to the some of the data sets that are available. Using super-smart card technology, Unifi.id allows building managers to track the location of staff. It can be especially useful in understanding who is in a building if there is an incident – something that’s great for safety and for insurance purposes.
Similarly, Voltaware, which installs sensors on a property’s fuse box to measure the amount of electricity being used before transmitting data via Wi-Fi to a cloud-based server for analysis, also relies on the gathering of its own information.
All about the data
From four wheels to two, See.Sense’s co-founder and chief strategy officer Irene McAleese explained where her company was at in its plans involving cyclists. “We want to combine our data sets with other data from CityVerve to leverage even more insights,” she said. “We’re especially keen to see how our data can be used in decision-making processes, especially in relation to improving the design of cycle infrastructure and plans to improve the cycling experience. One such example is traffic light management: we could work with the data and use it to inform the traffic light timings to make it more likely for cyclists to get a run of green traffic lights, improving the flow for cyclists and their experience.”
However one of the hurdles raised was that some of the data See.Sense collects could just be obtained via an app. McAleese countered, saying that app use inevitably tails off whereas her product will continue automatically feeding information, and also has the benefit of collecting data with far more accuracy than is possible with an app, and across a wider range of variables.
Such points proved interesting, since they showed how real-life limitations and money can affect the roll-out of smarter cities. Ultra IoT is pushing ahead with plans for mobile air quality sensors that people can wear and which could be fitted to buses, shared bikes and Metrolink trams.
Antoine Zenié, who looks after data, analytics and strategy at the company, explained how poor air in the UK leads to 40,000 premature deaths each year, 2,000 of which are in Manchester.
“We want to reduce the effects of air pollution for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease sufferers but it’s hard to predict air pollution in advance,” he said, also pointing out that many fixed sensors are too high and that pollution levels vary over even short lengths. “What we want to do initially is give our device to six people with problems so that they can avoid hotspots and pollution.”
Nurse Julie Harrison, project lead for the CityVerve Health and Social Care theme, said the project needed to demonstrate the benefits to the NHS and questioned whether the device was too large. But she said hayfever sufferers could be interested in the potential benefits.
Qbots is also facing challenges. It is looking for building owners to take control of their energy future by providing a smart energy storage management system. For this, it needs real-time data so that it can work out when to optimise energy consumption.
“We design and strategise using energy data and, based on that, make a strategy for the building,” said Vijay Natarajan. “We want to understand more from Bruntwood about their operations and from Cisco and Manchester City Council to investigate how our solution can be part of a citywide system for solving energy challenges.”
By the end of the day, Bruntwood, TfGM and Manchester City Council had a strong idea of the projects and the next steps they need to make to move forward.
“Successful Open Innovation is dependent on collaboration, and creating a forum in which start-ups and stakeholders from the partner organisations can discuss, challenge and help mould game-changing solutions for the citizens of Manchester is critical,” Finch said, after a busy day of discussion and deliberation. “It means that the start-ups are working to solve actual challenges that Bruntwood, TfGM and MCC are facing, have created a solution that doesn’t disrupt their way of working or processes, and ultimately enriches the value of the final output.”