Bristol – a medium sized city in the South West of England – has always held its own niche. As the gateway to more isolated parts of the peninsular it is has become a thriving entrepreneurial and creative hub. Yet like any city it also has its glaring social issues.
In March last year, to build on the local talent and help counteract these problems, it launched Bristol is Open (BiO). As our journalist Marc Ambasna-Jones put it at the time, this could make it become “England’s SimCity”. The thinking behind the initiative is that everybody is talking about “smart cities” but nobody really knows how to make them work in practice. Bristol aims to provide real city data to test on.
Today BiO announced that Nokia has come on board as R&D partner and will join InterDigital and NEC on the corporate side. Nokia’s involvement includes an undisclosed cash sum but principally means an investment of of time and equipment.
Cormac Whelan, CEO of Nokia, UK and Ireland explains at roundtable held in London last week that the company has put in a three year R&D commitment because “it lets us play in a real life sandbox”. Normally it is impossible to learn in a real life environment “without creating chaos” he says.
Barney Smith, CEO of BiO clarifies that Bristol is 110 square kilometre with a population of 450,000 and is growing a furious pace. “We’ve tried all the things that we normally try [to offset difficulties],” he says. So now it’s time to look for some new solutions.
The underlying technology infrastructure in in place and consists of a 144 fibre core network connecting four nodes, 54 connected lamppost clusters and 1500 sensors. It is built on open principles using software defined network technologies. The city also has capacity for extremely fast broadband as it has utilised an underground network of 1970s ducts put in by long defunct broadcaster Rediffusion.
Nokia has been given access to 1700 live CCTV cameras and is particularly interested in analysing pedestrian and cyclist traffic flow. “[There are] More people cycling and walking to work than in any other city,” says Smith.
The problem of urban overcrowding is a global one and BiO has been talking to representatives from other cities such as Bratislava and Moscow. Smith says “the difference is we’re much more focused on that R&D test bed”. He is keen to stress the wider aim of the project is to find proven solutions that can be rolled out in other cities worldwide.
“We spent a lot of time putting cables into the ground and now we need to make it more accessible,” says Smith. And while the government provided the initial capital investment the private sector will help it to “sustain, maintain and develop”. Naturally BiO is open to involvement from other vendors as well as startups and academics who can help identify new solutions.
“Nokia is making some really cool tech that is going to really help people’s lives,” concludes Smith. “I just want to see how [it will work in real cities].”
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond
Jon Collins’ in-depth look at tech and society
Kathryn Cave looks at the big trends in tech