Bristol is Open (BIO) CEO wants to drive more investment in smart...

Bristol is Open (BIO) CEO wants to drive more investment in smart cities

Bristol is Open (BIO) has announced that Nokia will participate in its research and development (R&D) test-bed for smart city technology.

At a roundtable in London last Thursday, IoB heard BIO’s plans to test technologies that could improve the quality of life in cities, with a view to replicating that model across the globe.

The company, a joint venture between University of Bristol and Bristol City Council, told reporters that it aims to give citizens more ways to participate-in and contribute-to the way their city works.

BIO is an ‘open programmable city infrastructure.’ It is essentially a sandbox or a space in which new software can be tested before it becomes available for commercial and generic public use. BIO calls it ‘City Experimentation as a Service.’

Executives from Nokia explained that they have signed up for a three-year R&D commitment because of this ability to ‘play’ with technology in a real, live sandbox environment.

The company will use the partnership to test both hardware and software solutions with a focus on video and data analytics. It will begin by monitoring 1,700 CCTV cameras across the city to analyze traffic trends.

‘We need new solutions to solve old problems’

Speaking about the issues Bristol is facing, BIO CEO Barney Smith said: “It’s 450,000 people living in a wider metropolitan area…over the last 10 years’ alone our population has grown by 11 percent, over the next 25 years it’s going to grow by 23 percent…and yet we have already got problems.”

Overcrowding and congestion are problems faced by many cities across the globe. They aren’t new, but they lead to inequalities in areas like healthcare and income. Issues people understand and relate to.

BIO exists to try and find solutions to some of these problems, according to Smith.

Once we find these solutions Smith says “we can adopt them into our normal day-to-day operations within the city, where we’ve actually learnt lessons of what worked in a safe environment and then try it in an operational environment.”

Find the ‘art of the possible’ in Bristol

How to do it is the question.

The current physical infrastructure to BIO is a 144 core fibre optic ring around the city with four nodes. The company also has some LTE and proto-5G technology around the harbour, and is working on a radio frequency IoT mesh network for the city lampposts.

For Cormac Whelan, Nokia CEO UK & Ireland, this real-life city environment is a great opportunity to find the “art of the possible” for smart cities.

Nokia will start by using the data generated by 1,700 CCTV cameras mentioned to analyze things like traffic patterns for cars, pedestrians and bicycles to better understand and, therefore, optimise traffic flows.

Whelan acknowledged that BIO’s facility has “all sorts of things it can be used for, probably some of which we don’t even know yet.”

As well as video and analytics, Nokia hopes to ‘get into’ optical networking and 5G trials amongst other things.

BIO is creating an ‘investment case’

There are other cities across the UK and globally that are trying to achieve smart city status, such as Milton Keynes, Santander, and in the near future Bratislava and Moscow.

These might be exceptions to the current rule, however. Markus Brochert, SVP Europe at Nokia believes we’ve seen a lot of talk and not a lot of action to drive smart city initiatives. Primarily, this is because it’s neither easy or cheap to do.

For Smith, Bristol has the scale and the capacity for huge amounts of data which create the right environment to test solutions ‘before anyone else’.

“If we can test it and show it and demonstrate it in Bristol, we can actually create the investment case that other cities need,” he added.

Cormac Whelan believes “the commercialization will be leveraging an infrastructure for a fee to do your particular thing on it.”

It’s this model that is likely to create revenues for the company and its partners, should they find a viable smart city model. It may also encourage government investment.

BIO has had £7.5 million ($9.3 million) from the UK government to build its infrastructure, but Smith said he needs revenue to sustain an engineering team and grow the program.

“Without the likes of Nokia, I can’t sustain, maintain and develop this [BIO]… Corporates are going to transition cities, because this is not a centrally planned economy,” Smith told us.

‘Bristol is open’

Currently, BIO is exploring autonomous car technology through its work with the Venturer consortium, and is building out a smart waste program.

Notable partners in the venture include NEC and Interdigital, and Smith was keen to stress that “Bristol is open” to working with anyone.

Brochert agreed with this sentiment from a commercial standpoint. “We recognise we cannot do it alone, so we’re looking for partnerships to innovate together and to capture the potential of smart cities to solve real-world problems,” he concluded.

Related: London and Bristol are UK’s leading smart cities