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A view on the Smart Cambridge Launch

Cofinitive attended the Smart Cambridge Launch, a rapidly evolving programme harnessing technology to improve economic strength, sustainability and quality of life in the Greater Cambridge area. Academics, councillors, business, technology and other interested parties were in attendance.

Amongst the crowd stood some glimmer of younger generations. They filled me, and others I’m sure, with hope that the future generations won’t be forgotten in the excitement of developing the Intelligent City Platform. Younger generations need to become involved in this experimental period, if that wouldn’t inspire them to chase the technology roles of the future I don’t know what would!

The ‘lightning’ speakers were well organised and prepped. In turn they went through Cambridge’s history and its current difficulties – including an income equality level with South Africa’s, according to Cllr Francis Burkitt – to the technology behind LoRaWAN and the data platform, and finally on to some potential real-life uses.

What took me aback were the sensor nodes that will enable Cambridge to become a testbed. Each node is similar in size to your wireless router at home and requires lower energy than your home router too. They cost just £10 each, have a lifetime of 10 years and have a theoretical range (from sensor to gateway) of 10km. As University of Cambridge’s Jon Holgate said, it’s the power of ten.

Implementing sensor nodes shouldn’t pose a problem, and some have already been active across the city since the end of January. Cambridge Wireless CEO Bob Driver explained the LoRaWAN area is only limited by the number of sensor nodes in place, and considering their relative low cost it should then be driven by demand.

As the Smart Cambridge programme is in very early stages there isn’t a great deal of demand just yet but looking forward, that’ll surely increase. Dr Ian Lewis of the University of Cambridge told me they’ve already tested the data platform to handle 1000x the data they currently have. Although that sounds sustainable, it’s sensible too. The use of smart city technologies will only increase as more sensors are deployed and more companies take advantage of Cambridge as a testbed.

Cambridge Wireless is running IoTUKBoost programme to encourage just that. They’re looking for organisations to enter and win a place on the programme to further develop their IoT solutions. Despite much emphasis on smart city technology being on traffic management, IoTUKBoost is looking for entries that could address issues concern air quality and ill health among older people as well as transport. Organisations have until Tuesday 28thMarch to apply.

One use of IoT in Cambridge that’s well underway is a mobile travel app by Cambridge-based technology company Building IntellectDaniela Krug (other than facilitator Noelle Godfrey, Daniela was the only female on the panel – just saying) explained that the app helps travellers plan their journey around Cambridge using real-time data on public transport to give accurate and time-saving options. The app will suggest routes that combine walking, cycling, bus, train and car travel to encourage more sustainable modes of transport.

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner also gave a few words at the Smart Cambridge Launch, asking us to remember those who are less tech-orientated and help them adapt and grow with the technological advances on offer. His sentiment gave me much food for thought as I left the event wondering how long it’ll take for the uses of IoT to diversify. I obviously wasn’t alone in this concern as the topic arose in the Q&A session too.

It’s all well and good setting up the digital infrastructure to enable LoRaWAN and make Cambridge a testbed environment for IoT, but it will only really work if the disrupters, the innovators and the creatives harness the technology and take it directions that no one has thought of yet – something besides transport and traffic would be nice! The panel was optimistic about this as Ian explained anyone can plug into the data platform and utilise LoRaWAN and Bob shared that one of the deployed sensor nodes is at Addenbrookes so there’s much potential for using IoT there.

Watch this space, although you’ll find more of the action in the virtual world.