Dr Paul Sant, Associate Dean at The University of Bedfordshire details how Milton Keynes is striving to become one of the UK leaders in smart cities
According to a recent report by Centre for Cities, Milton Keynes is the UK’s number one city for jobs growth. Not only that, but it is also home to the MK: Smart project 1 – a £16m Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Catalyst project that focuses on the development of technology to help Milton Keynes overcome the potential barriers to growth.
The project, led by the Open University, and with partners from across the Higher Education, public and commercial sectors, including the University of Bedfordshire (thorough University Campus Milton Keynes) has received £8m of funding from HEFCE, with the remaining £8m consisting of matched funding by partners. It promises to utilise technological capability, including the rapidly expanding Internet of Things (IoT), to deliver solutions that will allow Milton Keynes to continue to grow, and be one of the UK leaders in smart cities.
The IoT and connected devices landscape have the potential to address some of the societal challenges facing cities, both today and in the future. These include areas such as utilities (energy and water) and transport systems. They also have the potential to allow us to utilise vast data sources in order to inform health initiatives (for example, how to deal with an ageing population) as well as helping to inform policy makers who are responsible for city wide decisions.
Milton Keynes is a relatively new city, having been set up as a New Town in 1967. Today it has a population of approximately 260,000, with a predicted population growth of 20% by 2026 (300,000). To achieve this growth there is a need to provide services such as energy, water and transport that will allow Milton Keynes (MK) to prosper, and remain an attractive place to live, as well as a thriving business environment.
Milton Keynes needs to address challenges to 3 key areas: transport, energy and water. It is predicted that traffic on the roads will increase by up to 60%, and traditional engineering solutions can only address 50% of this increase in traffic. The MK: Smart project is, therefore, looking to see how the IoT and smart technology can help to ‘bridge the gap’.
In terms of demand for utilities (energy and water) the project is looking at how the predicted population increase in MK can be accommodated within existing energy and water consumption limits (i.e. with a 0% increase). Again, the project is looking to see how energy and water management systems can benefit from smart sensor technology in order to help support this objective.
At the heart of these developments is the desire for collaboration with business. In this respect, the University of Bedfordshire team are engaging with small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in MK in order to stimulate innovations that will feed directly into the MK: Smart project, and deliver solutions that will limit the impact on current and future citizens.
At the centre of the project is the so-called MK Data Hub, a computer architecture that is designed to collect data from various IoT and sensor networks, and allow businesses, the local council and its citizens to see the impact that the project is having, as well as being able to use the data to meet the cities smart and future city objectives.
The MK Data Hub, which is housed at the University of Bedfordshire’s Milton Keynes Campus is a test-bed for innovation relating to the MK: Smart project. It will collect data sets from across the city, and make use of a wealth of open data as well as information from the MK: Smart project in order to help achieve the projects’ objectives, which include engagement with SMEs, job creation, and citizen engagement.
The MK: Smart project aims to improve the lives of citizens in Milton Keynes, as well as supporting the growth and development of businesses within Milton Keynes. With this is mind, work is well underway with respect to engaging the citizens of Milton Keynes. Working with Community Action MK, and SME based in Milton Keynes (Graymatter) and the team working on citizen engagement, a series of workshops aimed at gathering ideas from local citizens, relating to how smart cities work and function, have already been held. A citizen engagement platform is being developed which includes the opportunity for citizens to work with SMEs in order to bring their ideas to fruition.
On the business engagement front, University Campus Milton Keynes, including personnel from the University of Bedfordshire Business School, have been engaging with businesses to see how they can bring innovation and business (technical and commercial) knowledge to bear within the project. This includes colleagues from the Big Data team from within the University’s Business and Management Research Institute (BMRI) and members of staff from the Institute in Research in Applicable Computing (IRAC), who are working closely with SMEs to develop solutions to some of the challenges that present themselves in the smart city arena. MK: Smart is an important project for Milton Keynes, but it is not the only one. Milton Keynes is home to the Transport Systems Catapult, the UK’s innovation centre for intelligent mobility, funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. Late 2015 should see the introduction of driverless pods (LUTZ pathfinder project) ferrying people from the station to MKs central shopping area. In addition, Milton Keynes, as part of a UK consortium, recently won a multi-million grant (Innovate UK) called ‘UK Autodrive’ which may see more mainstream driverless vehicles on UK roads. Future city thinking will be at the core of this feasibility study and will address not only technical aspects but also behavioural and societal impacts.
Aside from driverless cars, Milton Keynes is also part of a trial on smart bins (commercial), smart parking trials, a Low Power Wide Area Network (connecting the city and enabling devices to communicate across a network) and a host of other smart city initiatives.
In summary, the Internet of Things, connectivity and smart cities are all things that Milton Keynes is a part of, and demonstrates the vibrancy of activity that is taking place.
Dr Paul Sant
The University of Bedfordshire