Bradford City Council, the Internet-of-Things and better public service
We speak to Bradford City Council’s enterprise architect and information manager, Yunus Mayat, about the area’s new Low Range Wide Area Network.
At the heart of the council’s technology push is a new LoRaWAN (a Low Range Wide Area Network). It is only the second city in the UK, after London, to roll one out. London‘s LoRaWan established around 50 base stations in September last year and both the Greater London Authority and Bradford City Council worked closely with digital co-ordinator Digital Catapult on their projects. Digital Catapult is backed by government-funded Innovate UK.
The system’s media access control (MAC) protocol allows devices to communicate with apps over a Wide Area Network. In short, it is the backbone for an Internet of Things-based smart city with the wider aim of driving innovations in digital health, social care and public services.
Bradford City council last month deployed 2 LoRaWAN gateways at the ODI [Open Data Institute] Leeds and at the Digital Health Enterprise Zone (DHEZ), with a third to be set up in the coming weeks. Each gateway is able to support up to 20,000 connected devices and can operate at approximately 15 km in suburban settings and 2 km in dense urban environments.
Mayat explains how the Council is working closely with other bodies on the project, including the Digital Catapult Centre Yorkshire, the DHEZ and the University of Bradford. The university set up an Internet of Things lab last year and has purchased a fourth gateway for the region.
Floods and bins
The first big project to make use of the technology uses flood sensors which feed data back to the council every 15 seconds. Two were deployed in Bradford Beck and Shipley four weeks ago with two more on the outskirts of Bradford in Cottingley and Saltaire.
As Mayat explained this is an approach to flood management based on a scheme that the planning team saw being run in Amsterdam. The sensors used include flood monitors, gully sensors, and river level monitors. He said:
Bradford has had a flooding problem for a long time. We are normally reactive regarding flood threats. But analysis of patterns in the data will mean we can be proactive and anticipate problems before they occur.
The idea was in a part the result of a regular hackathon set up by ODI Leeds and was one of several ideas to have come to fruition. Another idea from the event was presented by Bradford Beck, a community group lobbying to put sea life back into the river. The project will include use of water purity sensors to monitor PH levels and ensure the conditions are right for the reintroduction of wildlife.
Another Lorawan-based scheme currently on trial is the management of council bins using sensors, the project is called Binnovation. Mayat said:
Our dust trucks regularly go out of town, but many of the bins aren’t used. It’s a waste of time. This will allow us to see which bins are full or empty and work out where we should remove or put additional bins. This will save time and resources and help manage litter issues within the city.
LoraWan connected devices will help Bradford council manage transport issues too. Proposals currently under consideration include CO2 sensors, parking sensors, road monitoring and sound sensors.
Ideas around improvement of social care or health are central to the council’s LoRaWAN project. It is working closely with Bradford University and The DHEZ to develop these with the aim of allowing vulnerable or elderly people to live on their own for longer. One idea currently under consideration would see sensors placed inside the plant pots of elderly people. If watered less frequently, they would raise an alarm, as this may indicate a deterioration for dementia patients.
Similarly, computing researchers are collaborating with the University, the DHEZ and the department of adult services at the local authority to develop sensors for wearable devices that would monitor blood pressure or heartbeat.
They might also be used on doors to ensure they are shut properly or on lights or curtains to ensure they are being used as normal. Aberrations might indicate some problem that can be followed up by social or health workers. Similarly, the same community spaces might be fitted with sensors to monitor carbon dioxide, or monoxide, as well as act as fire alarms or temperature sensors.
Within the council itself sensors will soon be deployed to monitor movement of staff, ensure sign in and out, as well as meeting room and panic-alarm sensors.
New ideas for the best use of sensors are generated during monthly workshops at which local departments brainstorm with SMEs from the area. The departments are asked to present problems that the SMEs must solve using IoT technology.
The ICT department has a grant scheme and will give grants and prizes to the best ideas to come out of the workshops.
One proposal to come from February’s workshop proposed using sensors to monitor water coming into and out of people’s homes. The sensors feed data to a household and the council regarding excessive water use or leaks. The sensors are currently being trialled in a house in Bradford. The best ideas will be developed by social impact technology start-ups such as Konnecktis or DataFlock.
Although the Bradford LoraWan is in its infancy, the project’s potential is enormous. Similarly, the council’s scheme to encourage innovation within its own departments as well as its ready collaboration with bodies such as the DZEH and SMEs in the private sector make it seen dynamic as few local authorities are. Developers interested in smart city projects should certainly watch this space.