Future Cities Catapult competition jump-starts urban innovations for the ‘Internet of Things’


A competition in the United Kingdom aims to help London solve urban challenges by harnessing arrays of internet-connected devices, what the tech industry likes to call the “Internet of Things” or IoT. Future Cities Catapult, a government-supported urban innovation centre, has awarded £50,000 (US$62,000) to six startups, the organization announced last week.

With the aid of wireless sensors, the IoT tethers the Internet to the wider world, allowing your refrigerator, for example, to tell you when you need to pick up milk or bread at the store. When applied to cities, the concept could have potentially profound impacts on the way traffic congestion, air quality, street lighting and other systems are managed.

The six finalists envision applications that range from flood prevention and noise reduction to enhancing the safety of London cyclists and helping government agencies better utilize building space.

The startups will divide the proceeds, with some winners receiving a maximum £10,000. The money would be used to design and deploy connected devices for Things Connected, a platform in London launched in September 2016.

Things Connected is strictly a testbed for the latest advancements. Ideas that show promise could be launched on various commercial networks in London and across the UK.

Details about the winners:

  • London’s BuggyAir plans to offer real-time updates on cyclist and pedestrian exposure to pollutants.
  • Exeter’s KloudKeeper specializes in technology that aids with rainwater capture and reuse to reduce demand and mitigate floods.
  • Edinburgh-based Beringar would test sensors that identify unallocated and underused space within the UK’s National Health Service. The solution could lower costs and improve patient care, the startup says.
  • In partnership with a citywide cycling campaign, Joyride Technologies of London would use public Wi-Fi, tracking devices and analytics to evaluate the biking patterns of families. The data would inform infrastructure planning.
  • Foster +Partners of London wants to tackle noise pollution. It would arm citizens with stats on noise levels in their neighbourhoods so they can avoid the loudest streets and construction sites.
  • Cambridge’s Nymbly has designed an air-quality management app for the workplace. It features measurements on individual rooms. The app can aid building owners with decisions on when to upgrade ventilation systems, replace filters and make other adjustments.

Future Cities Catapult emphasizes that tech companies have ample incentive to help London and other places explore the commercial rollout of connected solutions. The UK’s current marketplace for these technologies, now valued at £13.3 billion (US$16.6 billion), is expected to grow about 50 percent to £20 billion (US$25 billion) by the end of 2018, it notes.

[See: How Future Cities Catapult is catalyzing the ‘smart city’ market in the UK and beyond]

Other municipalities to launch IoT networks include Barcelona, where the technology helps the city monitor everything from public transit to waste management, according to Harvard University’s Data-Smart City Solutions initiative.

Songdo, South Korea, a futuristic metropolis built from scratch with the help of Cisco, features cutting-edge innovations woven into the original design.

Another example is Chicago, where an Array of Things uses sensors to collect real-time, location-based data for public consumption and research. Likened to a “fitness tracker for the city,” the network gathers intelligence on weather, air quality, traffic and other essentials that is disseminated on Plenario, Chicago’s open data platform.

Future Cities Catapult has partnered with several organizations on Things Connected, including BT, Everynet, Beecham Research, Imperial College London, King’s College London, UCL and Queen Mary University of London.

Learn more about Future Cities Catapult and its Urban Innovation Centre, a collaborative hub for businesses, academics, city leaders and entrepreneurs, here and here.

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David Hatch is a correspondent for Citiscope.  Full bio

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