Over the course of our eight-week Open Innovation programme, we’ll be putting a series of quick-fire questions to our finalists to find out a bit more about where they’ve come from and what their plans are for shaping the future of our cities.
This week, Paul Sheedy – founder and CEO of Unifi.id – is answering our questions…
Tell us about Unifi.id and what made you start it?
Using our super-smart card technology, Unifi.id provides the building manager with unique intelligence on the location of staff, zone-by-zone, for use in case of emergency, enabling better management and protection of the people using the building.
The Unifi.id solution morphed from our original core focus of delivering a seamless way to communicate targeted offers to mobile phones at the right time, in the right place and to the right person. I had previously co-founded one of the most successful data analysis companies in the retail sector, which took loyalty card data and helped retailers understand their customers’ purchasing habits, and use those insights to create greater loyalty.
Our offering developed into a wider solution when we were approached by a co-working company that has positioned itself as the most customer-centric provider of office space. After instant success with them, we rolled our solutions to all of their sites and still work closely with them to grow our offering further.
It was in 2016, as we got to understand the inherent issues with high-rise buildings, that we knew we had to take it further still. We’re based in one of the tallest buildings in Europe, and it, like many of its surrounding skyscrapers have never done full evacuations. The reason? You can’t fit the people in the stairways! This, in my view, is morally reprehensible and the Unifi.id team are committed to championing the need for change in terms of approach and current regulations.
What’s your vision for the future, and how do you think Unifi.id will make an impact on its users?
We are fortunate in that we have great global potential. We are currently setting up our second overseas office in South Korea, where we are focusing on smart city and building solutions for Busan and Seoul. We also have great opportunities in China; just last week we were the only company out of 2,000 applicants to be nominated as finalists in two of eight categories for the Shenzhen International Innovation Competition, for the IoT and Connected Devices sectors.
But closer to home, we are thrilled to be working as part of CityVerve in Manchester, which has the potential to become one of the smartest cities in the world.
Last summer in the UK, we saw how things go seriously wrong with high-rise towers; and the impact is devastating. In these scenarios, our technology enables us to give the fire services real-time data on the number of people, floor-by-floor, in high rise and skyscraper buildings, and how the building is evacuating. Sensors in lift lobbies and fire stairways track the numbers of individuals and their movement direction. Our web portal clearly illustrates to the emergency services where their focus is required.
Through the way in which our artificial intelligence and machine learning of evacuations will be constantly developed, Manchester’s fire department will have the key data needed to make immediate, critical decisions on what needs to be prioritised. This will minimise the loss of life within the buildings, but also to the number of fire fighters who risk their own lives.
Why did you apply to the CityVerve Open Innovation programme?
Globally many countries are highly focused on smart city technology, especially in the Middle and Far East, where we regularly join trade missions with the Department of International Trade and the Mayor’s International Business Program. But it was wonderful to finally have a programme based in the UK, with such committed partners as Cisco, Bruntwood, MSP and so many others who are focused on delivering real-world solutions – and not just a theoretical assessment committee.
These companies know that by pulling the multiple data sets available, and by adding to them through companies like ours, that we can enable better decisions to be made.
We know that this is the time and the platform to ensure our technology is going to have a fundamental change. The momentum is here in Manchester and minds are open for change, which is critical.
What’s the biggest benefit to joining programme so far?
So far, it’s been having our minds opened to some of the incredible data sets available, and the work that organisations like Ordnance Survey are doing. This has delivered some real lightbulb moments for us on wider integrations on our innovation roadmap.
Our technology is currently being focused in the building sectors, where we know we can deliver fundamental change, but there are wider aspects we will look to morph our technology to including transportation.
But, as Manchester grows ever more vertically, our core aim remains to deliver our systems and push for policy change. We want Manchester to be the first city to deliver regulations that illustrate a duty of care to its citizens and its emergency services, so that they never have to deal with the chaos of a high rise disaster.
Image via Michaelmazr