The Sensor City facility, a collaborative venture between Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Liverpool, has appointed Alison Mitchell as its executive director.
Mitchell, an alumna of both universities and former chief information officer at BT Business, brings a wealth of experience to Sensor City, which aims to driver sensor technology in Liverpool, across the UK and internationally.
The £15 million facility, located in Liverpool, UK, recently opened the doors of its new building, having received £5 million in funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for its work in developing sensor and other emerging technologies, as well as a further £5 million from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
“My vision here is to create a global hub for sensor technologies, so that it is a national asset for all companies within the UK to use, and for companies outside of the UK,” Mitchell told Internet of Business.
Creating a sense of community
As executive director, Mitchell is tasked with supporting the establishment of hi-tech sensor businesses and start-ups, enabling graduate entrepreneurs from across the region to access leading experts and world-class research from the field of sensor technologies.
Sensors are the crucial link between technological devices and the world around them, capturing data in a whole range of areas: temperature, humidity, pressure and so on. They can be used in everything from home security systems to medical technology and high-value manufacturing.
The UK sensor industry, meanwhile, generates £13 billion each year and supports 70,000 jobs, producing £6 billion in exports. Around 1.4 million people in the UK are employed in sensor-aligned professions. Of these, some 159,000 are based in the North West and 27,000 are in the Liverpool City Region. Sensor City aims to build on this resource.
Mitchell told Internet of Business that her aim is to create a “community” out of Sensor City. “It’s a community of people who are interested in sensors, and IoT, that we want to bring together. Not just in the Liverpool region, but nationally and internationally. And it’s about access to those assets, and it’s sharing that knowledge,” Mitchell said.
Sensor City is working across a range of sectors, making available to its community the assets of the universities, as well as the skills and expertise of businesses and researchers. Whether it’s simply a case of providing innovation space, a place to hotdesk for SMEs or access to the electronics, mechanical or optics laboratories of larger businesses, Sensor City is looking to drive the development of sensor businesses.
Customers, skills, reputation
Sensor City’s first customer, announced in January of this year, is Fatigue Management International (FMI), Mitchell explained. FMI provides sensor-related fatigue systems for people who do a significant amount of long, repetitive driving, such as in the mining industry. FMI now sits in the Sensor City Innovation Center and, though it is still an early-stage company, its team has received support in making business connections, as well as guidance through its fundraising stage.
Mitchell hopes to grow this community with businesses large and small, to the benefit of Liverpool as a smart city. “I would hope that Liverpool would become more involved in smart cities, and within smart health,” said Mitchell. “Health is a big piece for us, as is marine – a lot of marine work is going on, obviously, with the Mersey being a fantastic environment.”
The company is not ignoring the need to improve the skills of those interested in this sector, either. The team is running a Master of Science (MSc) course on Sensors and Entrepreneurship for one candidate who will have the opportunity to work at Sensor City’s Innovation Center for a year to gain real-life project experience.
Sensor City is also building its reputation internationally. In just one example, a team from Liverpool John Moores University is already working with partners from Greece, Belgium, France, Switzerland and elsewhere in the UK on DigiArt, which is funded through Horizon 2020. This project aims to provide a new, cost-efficient solution to the capture, processing and display of cultural artefacts, and hopes to change the ways in which the public can interact with cultural objects and spaces.