Bristol IoT project turns whole city into research lab

The skyline of the city of Bristol
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Bristol has declared itself the UK's first “programmable city”, as it prepares to open up its data to tech companies, researchers and SMBs.

The city will effectively turned itself into one big research lab with Bristol Is Open, a project in which data derived from various Internet of Things (IoT) sensors will be used to create applications aimed at improving quality of life.

These IoT devices capture information on air quality, traffic movement, temperature, humidity and traffic signal patterns, and communication between these sensors will be hosted by CityOS, an operating system designed by the University of Bristol.

The university can crunch the data with its own £12 million supercomputer, BlueCrystal, before tech firms and other organisations create applications based on the data, once the project begins in March, after being approved by the council this week.

The innovations Bristol expects to see as a result of the project could help it become one of the UK’s first smart cities.

Smart metering has already been introduced, using energy data collected from buildings to cut energy usage by as much as 20 per cent.

Meanwhile, better air quality data could help Bristol City Council cut pollution.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, pro vice-chancellor for research at the university, said: “It is great news the city’s cabinet has approved the project. This unique partnership between the university and the council will enable Bristol to be one of the UK’s most technologically advanced cities.

“This is a ground-breaking project that could benefit how people live in a modern city.”

Current schemes designed to tackle issues in cross-network communications, as well as healthcare issues, should benefit from the project, while the city’s planetarium will be used as a hub to display weather patterns and astronomical imagery.

Organisations will also be able to use an open, city-wide software-defined network to provide telecommunications networks on demand, according to Paul Wilson, MD of Bristol Is Open.

The city is using the government-funded IoT standard, HyperCat, to allow the devices to speak to one another.

The initiative, announced last summer, has also been adopted by Milton Keynes Council and is a framework designed to overcome IoT silos created by companies building connected-devices to their own, independent standards.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) has added a HyperCat “wrapper” to the London Datastore, its open source project, to publish councils' public datasets, and the project is backed by many UK firms including BT.