In CityVerve and at MSP, we firmly believe that collaboration is a key driver of innovation. With that in mind, we recently announced the Open Innovation Challenges: for start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK using Internet of Things (IoT) technology that can solve our smart city challenges. You may have read elsewhere on this blog about some of the other goings-on in our open innovation initiative.
In order to facilitate more openness and create opportunities for people who don’t necessarily have a background in technology, data, or the IoT to launch their ideas through CityVerve, we’ve also been planning hackathons tied to our project themes.
Earlier this year, Transport for Greater Manchester, BT and Manchester Science Partnerships ran the Open Innovation Transportation Hackathon in the Bright Building here in Manchester.
What is a hackathon? A hackathon is an intensive event bringing together diverse skills, technologies, expertise and experience to refine problems, create solutions, and run with opportunities within a defined timeframe. It’s immersive, fast-paced, creative, thorough and – ultimately – productive.
We kicked things off on a Friday evening with an introduction to CityVerve and the hackathon challenges that had been drawn from the Next Generation Cycling and Talkative Bus Stop use cases.
The cycling challenges were:
To utilise cycling data to understand user behaviour and new business opportunities
To develop an aggregated booking platform for bikes in Manchester (using MaaS, or Mobility as a Service, methodology)
To combine multiple data sources to produce innovative transport solutions
The challenges based around our smart bus stops (utilising a flexible, open platform and connectivity) were:
To develop a use case based on air quality monitoring
To provide ‘weather station’ capabilities
To count and measure traffic
To increase usage and traveller satisfaction by using innovative technology to improve the end user experience of public transport
These challenges were identified and defined early on in the project, and this hackathon provided an opportunity for any interested party to contribute new approaches to solving them. The key criteria for the solutions were that they must benefit the community, and they must be scalable and replicable elsewhere.
After introducing the challenges, BT presented the data available on the BT Data Hub for the participants to use. We were then joined by Luke Hampson from Ordnance Survey’s Geovation programme, who briefed the participants on the wealth of geospatial open data available from OS, including APIs for maps, places, and names – with over 2.5m searchable points of data!
After the talks, we opened the event up to the participants to share their ideas in a flash-pitching session. All of the ideas were collated, and over drinks and food everyone voted for their favourite solutions to take forward during the weekend, and subsequently formed teams around them.
Five teams worked to develop a business model and prototype for their chosen solution:
Faster By Bike
A web-based solution designed to integrate with existing mapping and routing services to highlight how much time would be saved if the user chose to cycle instead of using other modes of transport.
An app-based solution for train and tram passengers using live occupancy data from carriages to advise users of the least busy carriages on the approaching train/tram, reducing the stress of finding space on busier services during their commute.
Light My Way
A smart bike indicator and safety light that uses cycle routing data to aid the rider’s navigation and features indicator lights to make other road users aware of when the cyclist is about to make a turn. This offers a safer alternative to using complex and distracting maps on smartphones while riding.
Integrating Amazon Alexa and TfGM data at bus stops, the solution enables passengers to access live travel information via a Voice User Interface and improves accessibility for visually impaired users.
Smart Traffic Management Solutions / Road User Hub
Applying machine learning algorithms to city datasets, the solution aims to facilitate better traffic management for local authorities and ease traffic congestion.
On Saturday morning, after breakfast, each team was asked to nominate a technical rep and a business rep.
To kick things off we ran a technical workshop on the data hub, supported by BT experts, and asked the business reps to complete a lean start-up canvas for their idea, facilitated by MSP.
As each team developed their solution over the weekend, they pitched to mentors from BT, TfGM, Cisco, FutureEverything, and MMU, receiving feedback to help them refine their business model and prepare for the final judging on Sunday afternoon.
The mentors advised the teams on the strength of their idea, business viability, technical viability, and presentation skills.
To help keep the neurotransmitters firing and ideas flowing, there was a plentiful supply of tea and coffee and deliveries of food and snacks. Sam Li from TfGM also provided VR kit so the participants could take some time out and enjoy a variety of VR experiences.
The five teams used every minute available to them on Sunday to get ready for their final presentations, and it was amazing to see the progress they’d made over the course of just one weekend. Our judges were Zulf Choudhary (Sparta Digital), Caroline White (Manchester Metropolitan University), Yannis Georgas (Cisco), Julia Uttley (BT Business), and Geoff Clarke (AECOM and CILT).
After the judges’ deliberations, Light My Way came out on top as the best solution and the grand prize winner.
The team will receive support to create a prototype using CityVerve data, including free desk space and business support services from MSP and mentoring and technical support from other CityVerve partners.
UITP (The International Association of Public Transport) have also kindly offered to send one of the Light My Way team members to participate in the Youth For Public Transport Global Hackathon in Dubai this April. We’re looking forward to working with them over the next few months and seeing their prototype take shape.
A number of runners up prizes were also up for grabs, including See.Sense ICON intelligent bike lights.
If you’d like to learn more about Light My Way and follow their progress, the team have set up a website.
We’ll be announcing our next hackathon in the CityVerve Open Innovation series soon, so if you’d like to be kept up to date with this and other CityVerve events, please subscribe to our mailing list.