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19.08.15

Councils encouraged to take lead on 'Internet of Things' initiatives

Source: PSE Aug/Sep 15

Ed Vaizey MP Digital economy minister Rt Hon Ed Vaizey MP (pictured) writes for PSE about the recently launched £10m Internet of Things demonstrator competition and how local authorities can get involved.

It’s a fair bet, I think, that if you asked a cross section of the population what they understood by the expression ‘The Internet of Things (IoT),’ many people would give you a blank look. Some might know that it’s possible to use your mobile to turn on your central heating, as you make your way home after work. But they might wonder why that matters. 

In reality, the Internet of Things has profound and exciting implications for how we – all of us – will be living our lives in years to come. Let’s begin with a quick and easy definition: Where objects are connected in order to share their data and insights with each other and with people, to help make smarter decisions. 

In that central heating example, the application gives the householder the chance to control utility bills by remotely adjusting the settings on individual components and, better still, allowing the devices themselves to ‘learn’ your way of life and adapt the way they work to suit it. So the lighting in your home can automatically adjust to suit the programme you’re watching on TV. 

A bracelet, or even sports clothing, can collate data about your fitness, helping you make really informed decisions to protect and improve your health. 

The government is not going to try to determine what technologies succeed here. Innovative businesses will make applications, and people will judge for themselves what works. But there are some areas where we can and should help, so the UK can realise all the possible benefits. We want to make sure that people’s privacy and security is properly addressed. We are helping the UK’s brilliant inventors and designers take their innovations through to market. And we are making it possible to trial applications that will deliver better, cheaper, safer public services, in cities and in healthcare. 

The goal is to create services that respond directly to how people actually live their lives here and now, rather than on the basis of behavioural data gathered months – or years – ago. 

This is already happening. Smart street-lighting and sensing can enable a city to gather and share information about the places that experience the highest levels of traffic, noise or air pollution. By tracking transport patterns in real time as they emerge, then the number of buses (and their destinations) can be tweaked across a rush hour to meet people’s real demands, not according to an inflexible timetable. Real-time monitoring of air quality means it is possible to take action immediately when there are risks for vulnerable people. Opening the data means that citizens can adjust their own choices too. 

And that brings me to an exciting new competition that we – along with Innovate UK – were able to launch in July. We are asking cities and businesses to work together to bid for a £10m prize to get innovations working in practice, at city-scale. The £10m pot will support a single collaborative research and development project, drawing out fresh and innovative ideas, and testing them. Trialling them in real conditions, and at this scale, has huge potential to improve environmental services, economic opportunities and the ways in which transport, healthcare and energy are provided. 

We want to see collaborative projects, involving a local authority and a local enterprise partnership working alongside several businesses. They’ll need to show a real benefit for individual citizens as well as the wider region or city in which they live, and demonstrate replicability, and economic benefits for businesses and local authorities. And security and privacy for individuals must also be properly taken into account too. 

The deadline for registration is noon on 23 September this year, with final entries getting to Innovate UK, again by noon, on 30 September. 

The competition is part of a wider £40m government investment in IoT that we announced in the spring. The investment also includes research to make sure that these innovations will work safely, for everyone’s benefit. 

I think this is an exciting moment. The Internet of Things is fast becoming part of the fabric of how we live our lives and how government delivers for citizens. The UK is really well-placed to make the most of this. We are internationally renowned for design, and for creativity and innovation in the application of technology. 

We have the right skills and the right environment to win here, in this stage of the digital revolution. The UK has an opportunity to become a world leader in this emerging technology, and I am proud that the government is getting right behind that. It’s going to be great for the economy, bringing new kinds of jobs, and it’s going to create new kinds of flexible, responsive public services, that fit what people really need.

Further details on the £10m Internet of Things competition is online at: www.tinyurl.com/PSE-Innovate

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