Manchester wins £10m to build a smart city

The city of Manchester in the UK now has £10m to pilot smart city living via the Internet of Things - but will it spend it wisely?

Manchester in the UK has just won a £10m grant from the UK government to become a world leader in urban deployment of the Internet of Things. The City Verve project came top of a list of 22 entries involving 34 cities across the country.

The Government and Innovate UK offered the £10 million for a single collaborative research and development project to demonstrate the use of the IoT at scale across a city region. The competition is a substantial part of a wider £40 million government investment in Internet of Thing.

What CityVerve will do for Manchester

The successful proposal was built around a number of key proposals:

  • Management of chronic respiratory conditions – a ‘biometric sensor network’ which will help inform responses to patients’ conditions and thus improve how local healthcare services work.
  • Community wellness – a network of sensors positioned in parks, along commuter and school routes will track the progress of individuals and teams competing against each other for physical activity and fun. Examples include the “Great Space Race Challenge” for Manchester residents to walk to the moon.
  • Talkative bus stops – The conversion of standard ‘flag and pole’ bus stops into safe places with location-based services, sensors/beacons, mobile apps and intelligent digital signage. People will check-in to their bus stop and let bus operators know they are waiting for their service.
  • Smart lighting – To reduce car use, alternative forms of transport need to be attractive and safe, particularly walking and cycling. Smart lighting, in addition to connected street lighting, will help address this.
  • Bike sharing – Talking of cycling, the Manchester Corridor through-route will soon become bus and bike only. Bike sharing schemes can be expensive to install and maintain, and so an alternative is to use Internet of Things enabled bikes in a crowd-sourced and maintained, secure bike sharing service. It will also include ‘e-cargo’ bikes to make ‘last-mile’ deliveries on the Corridor.
  • Smart air-quality monitoring – Street furniture and connectivity infrastructure such as lamp posts and street cabinets on the Manchester Corridor will be used to monitor air quality at different heights and locations. Information will be passed to those with health conditions and made generally available to support walking options and routes.

How to make the most of £10m

Tom Saunders of Nesta, an innovation charity, has four piece of advice for the CityVerve team on making the most of this money:

  1. Open up participation: get SMEs, residents and civil bodies involved, rather than just imposing solution from big tech, of the city government.
  2. Generate and share evidence: ether’s still a paltry amount of evidence of the success of smart city projects. The more evidence we can get during the project – not just after it – the better.
  3. Invest in people, not just tech: data is fundamentally only as good as the people analysing it. An increase in smart sensors needs an increase in smart people to analyse it.
  4. Engage citizens, intelligently: The people know the city better than anyone else. You need their knowledge.

As Saunders says:

Residents know a huge amount about their cities and tapping into this ‘collective intelligence’ could both help the city better define the problems that matter most to residents, as well as generate innovative solutions. Manchester should tap into this collective intelligence using online tools that let residents debate ideas and decide which projects get implemented.

The money gives CityVerve a fantastic opportunity to use the city of my birth to make a compelling case for the benefits of widespread internet of things use in an urban environment. Let’s hope they don’t blow it…

Photo of Manchester by Ian Carroll and used under a Creative Commons licence