The city of Bristol, in the UK, has launched a £75m initiative to create a futuristic Smart City urban experiment. Major elements of the project are already underway, turning the city into a high-tech test-bed for innovation. Including a 30 Gigabit per second fibre broadband network powering the research project.
Bristol City Council is working with Bristol University and commercial partners such as, Japanese firm, NEC, to equip the city with the latest in sensor and connectivity technology. Named ‘Bristol is Open’, the project will effectively turn Bristol into a giant laboratory and explore the ways Big Data can be used to solve problems such as pollution, congestion and healthcare.
Bristol is not the only UK city hosting smart city trials; it is, in fact, one of four cities currently testing driverless car technology as part of a government scheme. However, Bristol has several notable advantages, which positions it among the most exciting smart city projects in the world.
Bristol boasts the largest silicon chip industry outside Silicon Valley, is second only to London as the UK’s strongest hub for creative industries, and hosts a progressive university that reflects its relatively open-minded and ambitious population.
Bristolians elected an independent mayor in 2012, George Ferguson, a self-proclaimed technology evangelist and one of the driving forces behind the initiative. “I believe that the best cities are the ones that embrace change and are prepared to look for new solutions to the great urban challenges, such as climate change, mobility, energy supply and caring for our growing older population” said Ferguson. “Of course, in trying new things we shall sometimes make mistakes, but by working closely with business, with academia and, of course, with citizens, we can learn together in our live urban lab”.
Bristol has another feature elevating their status as a leading smart city development. The underground ducts, originally built to bring cable television to the city in the 1970s, are being upgraded as part of the ambitious project. The old Rediffusion infrastructure, which runs for 100 miles under the streets, is being fitted out with a superfast, high-capacity fibre broadband network, funded by the UK government’s ‘super-connected cities’ program.
The high-speed fibre network will make use of the city-owned now disused cable ducting, combining it with the university's £12m supercomputer and a new 'city operating system' that will power the experimental network. “Managing the internet of things requires different forms of networking,” says Paul Wilson, the council official in charge. We covered in-depth the market opportunity for IoT in Buildings in our recent research - http://memoori.com/portfolio/internet-things-smart-buildings-2014-2020/
Drawing comparisons with great Victorian engineer Joseph Bazalgette, Stephen Hilton, director of futures at Bristol city council said, “when he replaced the drains and sewers in London, he built much more capacity than a city of that size needed at that point. One could argue that it was that over-specification that allowed London to grow. In some sense, we are trying to emulate that with a digital infrastructure”.
“What we’re doing is giving companies more bandwidth than they know what to do with, creating the headroom for experimentation and innovation. We know how important water, roads and electricity are. We think and believe data is the real next city utility”, said Hilton.
The huge bandwidth means that Bristol’s infrastructure will become not just smart, but programmable. The city’s fibre optics will in effect form an open, giant operating system that can learn from its citizens, while they, in turn, can use it to customise their environment by developing applications for it.
The city council’s ownership of the Rediffusion ducts avoids considerable cost and disruption and probably made the project, on this scale, a reality. “There is no other place in the world where they can do this. This is like an open laboratory”, says Prof. Simeonidou. Officials believe it will be the largest test-bed of its kind in Europe, covering a 40-mile wide area of 1m people stretching from Bath to Weston-super-Mare.
Despite the flood of innovation and excitement Bristol must still overcome many problems that weigh down discussions on smart city projects around the world, not least privacy and data security.
‘Bristol is Open’ said, in an official statement, that data will be held under strict guidelines, and that it intends to work closely with the EU commission and the university for guidelines on data protection policies. Suggesting that, generating an understanding of how citizens want their data to be used in smart cities is an important part of the project. “We expect to encounter issues of privacy and ethics and the University of Bristol's expertise in this area will be invaluable. We will, of course, comply with data privacy legislation and hope to also go further by developing a Citizens' Charter for Data”.
Perhaps treating data security like a technical system, which needs to be fault tested in larger and larger trials, is the mind set needed to overcome an issue that so often holds up smart development. That mind set, in turn, requires forward-thinking and trust between a tech-savvy population its ambitious local government.
Mayor Ferguson along with the ‘Bristol is Open’ development team, Bristol’s open-minded, creative, tech communities, and a ready-made, indulgent physical networking infrastructure, has created one of the most exciting smart city projects in the world.