Chief Information Officer of Digital Greenwich Paul Copping, a telecoms specialist by trade, is spearheading one of the biggest smart city integration projects in the UK, Digital Greenwich. But as he explains, understanding of networks is just one of many skills required to do this. The team include technologists, urban planners, industrial economists and sustainability experts. The project strategist, Professor Allan May, was a key voice in the formation of the government's Technology Strategy Board and helped developed the UK’s national strategy for smart cities.
Digital Greenwich kicked off six years ago with an agenda to improve the lives of the citizens of Greenwich. One way that it hopes to do so is by encouraging the right sort of business into the area. As such, a central tenet of the project is the Digital Enterprise Centre which currently houses 30 small businesses. The authority’s digital employment agenda means that the next wave of corporate partners housed by the centre will specialise in property technology, financial innovation, and other areas relevant to the Borough’s future needs.
On a general level Greenwich faces many of the issues faced by other local authorities - such as reduced budgets and a rapidly growing population (projected to rise from 275k now to 340k in 2027) - and creating a smart city is in part a response to this. But Copping explains that the council does not want to create some high-tech showcase, rather, it wants to make personal services more responsive to citizens.
One of the team’s big projects is the development of an app for adult social services called Digital Wallet. This service will provide access to private sector service providers and allow citizens to mix state care and services with those from the private sector, which should help people live independently in their homes for longer. The council has partnered with the NEC on the project and is making use of its digital platform, the Cloud City Operating Centre. The app is nearly finished and will be on the market later this year.
In 2016, the council extended its collaborative agenda and began working with legal practice DWF on a proposal to create a commercial framework for local authorities wanting to procure technology for smart cities. The framework will be released in the Spring this year.
The framework will help tackle the problem of lengthy procurement by setting up a new company wholly owned by a group of cities and municipalities. This company will qualify for a ‘Teckal exemption’ which means it can act as an insider company on behalf of local authorities and be exempt from the traditional complicated public sector procurement process. The set up would also help address complexity around integration of the infrastructure by enabling shared expertise. It would help partner cities work together and allow experts to discuss ways around complex problems such as integration of soft networks, virtualisation and big data platforms as well as the management of constantly-changing standards.
The smart city agenda is extremely complex and this project will help distribute expertise. Other cities can take the lead in their area of specialism. For example, climate and environmental analytics might be championed by Exeter in partnership with their neighbours at the Met Office.
Regional partnerships are emerging as city clusters agree to collaborate in Scotland, Ireland and the North of England. But the partnerships aren’t just UK based as Copping explains:
We are already in early discussions with the Netherlands and Dubai and looking to increase reach into Asia and Australasia. Although the collaborative procurement framework is designed around the European regulations, it is interesting for groups outside this region because it enables shared expertise and reduces systems integration risk.
Greenwich is also the UK test bed for Sharing Cities, a project led by the Greater London Authority. This is a smart-city collaboration with Milan and Lisbon that aims to demonstrate best practices around communications, transport and energy management. It is a five-year project with funding of €24m.
Future network innovationAside from these specific projects Digital Greenwich has three main areas of focus that tie in with the Sharing Cities agenda - networks, transport and energy. The group is working with three leading telecoms organisations on networks. First, it is looking at future network innovation with the 5G Innovation Centre based at the University of Surrey. 5G is a wireless system that will increase capacity, improve resilience and provide higher data speeds. Copping expects 5G services to be commercially available within the next three to five years with the first public trials towards the back end of this year.
Second, Digital Greenwich is working closely with the European Telecom Standards Institute (ETSI), to develop a smart city profile from a digital plumbing perspective. This will help pull together detailed work being done in other specialist ETSI Technical Committees including those working on the Internet of Things and in Software Defined Networking.
Third, Digital Greenwich is working with the GSMA, a membership organisation for global mobile network operators. Copping explains that smart cities are likely to be accessed primarily by mobile and may use a municipal version of a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) network to help with rapid deployment and collaboration. Similarly, MVNOs, because virtual, don’t have the interconnection problems of fixed-line networks, and the networks are already in place meaning they don’t need to be built from scratch. In addition, mobile operators can help manage security of mobile ID and transactions. Most of the information is low data traffic and can be sent this way. Greenwich’s collaborative smart city agenda is international in focus and the use of MVNOs is also good for countries that lack a fixed infrastructure.
Some 50% of the population in India access the web via their mobile, and we
understand that several Indian cities have approached ETSI for help with the design of their
Digital Greenwich is also running several projects to develop autonomous and connected cars.
It is working with the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL Ltd) on a project called GATEway, exploring urban deployment of autonomous cars. Another partner is Dynniq, which is leading European research project MAVEN to develop the use of road trains in urban environments. Road trains allow autonomous cars to run closely together, like carriages, enhancing efficiency in terms of journey time, road space used, and energy.
Similarly, Move UK is another research project in on which Digital Greenwich and TRL are partnering, this time with with Bosch, (a company that provides sensors to Jaguar Land Rover). Move UK is is trialling four Range Rover Sports as local authority vehicles with on board sensor systems that capture information. These vehicles enable learning in live use and produce results which can be used to improve future sensor performance.
Digital Greenwich recently won funds from Innovate UK to retrofit a full-sized refuse collection cart with an electric drive and electrically activated hydraulics for the crusher and bin lifts, to make it zero carbon. If successful, this project will speed up the market availability of refuse collection vehicles of this sort.
Digital Greenwich is also working on a variety of energy-saving projects that include solar panels in houses, electric bikes, and a scheme that will use the River Thames to provide affordable heat to local homes via a heat network, reducing the need for boilers in homes. For more information visit www.digitalgreenwich.com.
The work being done by Digital Greenwich is too extensive to fully cover in this one article. But as the flagship UK team for Sharing Cities this group really is spearheading the movement and Copping’s enthusiasm for and belief in collaboration is impressive. He is actively looking to partner and share information with as many local authorities as possible. It is perhaps this emphasis, and his excitement about work being done elsewhere that I find most inspiring about this project.